Queen of Jeans | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
More to Love: Queen of Jeans and friends bring endless devotion to Underground Arts
The easy read on pop music in its various permutations — retro-pop, indiepop, dream pop, poised-to-go-Spotify-viral pop — is that it’s disposable. Full of nonspecific sentiment, superficial and pandering; a bad suggestion that feelings are more important than everything else we need to worry about in the world right now.
Philly’s Queen of Jeans offers a rebuttal to that take in a few ways. First, their sneaky use of tried-and-true 50s arrangements, melodies, and song structures to critically comment the latent (or overt) misoginy of music that American society teaches us is canonical. Songs deemed “classic” by older generations that actually advocated a kind of unhealthy idea of what love is and what it should be; ideas that still, unfortunately, persist in music today.
In that spirit, Queen of Jeans closed its album release party at Underground Arts last night with a rousing bit of meta-pop, “U R My Guy,” where Shangri-La’s style trio vocals are employed, but instead of fawning over some busted dude, they’re putting him in his place: “your fame is borderline” goes one lyric from band leader Miriam Devora, followed later by the backing chant “he’s so fragile when he belongs to me” care of guitarist Matheson Glass and bassist Nina Scotto.
Okay, so pop needs to be subversive in this way to be important? Hardly. Not every Queen of Jeans song is a snarky breakdown of past tropes. Some are quite sincere, can be taken at face value, and that’s totally okay as well. Devora gave a heartfelt explanation of this: “The year that I wrote this album was a very difficult year for me,” she said. “Lots of family members and loved ones passed away.” Experiencing that, she said, made her appreciate her loved ones more, heightened the importance of love in her life; she shouted out the various aunts and band moms in the house last night before going into a performance of album closer “Space” that began solo and somber and swelled into something emphatic as her bandmates rejoined her.
Emotion is important; using songs to navigate devotion is important. Both openers did that in their own music. Katie Ellen frontwoman Anika Pyle introduced “Lucy Stone” as “a song about an anti-marriage activist,” and its driving lyrics underscored a message that the traditional way of doing things is not the only way. Earlier, Harmony Woods’ tremendous closer “Renovations” looked at the downside and aftermath when that dream doesn’t work out: “You know how much I love to take care of you, but sometimes I have to take care of me, too.”
Most important, there’s the ability to channel that emotion into your music as you’re playing. That was present at Underground Arts on Saturday as well, in the stratospheric drive of two unreleased Harmony Woods songs, “Best Laid Plans II” and “Ghosts”; in Katie Ellen’s always-riveting “Sad Girls Club”, where Pyle had the microphone teetering on edge as the lyric “she was sad and sick and that’s what killed her in the end” was fervently repeated. And especially in the locked-in dynamics of Queen of Jeans’ headlining set, from the haunting a cappella of “You’re Never Alone” to the full band catharsis of “Moody,” where drummer Patrick Wall bashed his kit so intensely there was a collective sign in the room at its conclusion.
These were all strains of pop, and I wouldn’t have disposed of any of it. Check out photos of this sick three-band bill in the gallery below.