The distance between Kathleen Hanna's old band, Bikini Kill, and the hooky dance-pop of her trio Le Tigre seems considerable, but it may not be as profound as it first appears. Bikini Kill grated on the ears with angry noise and angrier rhetoric. Le Tigre happily covers the Pointer Sisters and signs to a major label. But the message hasn't really changed muchonly the delivery system has. A crowd that will move to "I'm So Excited" is easy to motivate to dance as it shouts down Bush, contemplates the sexual politics of personal presentation, and chants along to righteous feminist statements.
Ahead of the New York hipster curve, Le Tigre looked to post-punk experimentalism and new-wave theatricality for inspiration on its self-titled 1998 debut. The band hasn't learned many new tricks since then, but it hasn't really needed any. After the hit-or-miss sophomore disc Feminist Sweepstakes, This Island finds Hanna, Johanna Fateman, and J.D. Samson further refining their pop instincts while increasing the intensity. Hanna screams "You make me sick" over and over again on "Seconds," but the band remains committed to making its political pill go down as easy as possible. "New Kicks" glues mile-wide guitar riffs to a skittering beat, chanted slogans, and anti-war spoken-word samples from Susan Sarandon, Al Sharpton, and others.
Only one trackthe sultry, defiant "Tell You Now"survives from some sessions produced by Ric Ocasek, but the rest of the album uses memorable tunes to smuggle in messages of hope and rage by the same method Ocasek used to sneak in lyrics of obsession and sadness. Le Tigre even tips its hand on the unnervingly catchy "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo," singing "we synchronize our movements 'til they're super-sick... we love to see the crowd move" before suggesting "it's just a joke." Of course, there's more to This Island than that. It's a crossover gesture with no interest in compromise, and though it could probably only have come from the Manhattan Island of the title, it should find an audience far beyond the banks of the Hudson.