Since Le Tigre entered into a state of suspended animation in early 2007, Kathleen Hanna has focused on things besides fronting a band. Among other things, she donated her riot grrrl relics to NYU’s Fales Library, volunteered at a rock camp for girls, and was featured in several documentaries (The Punk Singer, the Le Tigre tour chronicle Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour). More seriously, Hanna spent a good chunk of time dealing with a debilitating case of Lyme disease, which derailed the progress made by her new band, The Julie Ruin.
Formed in 2010, the quintet—which is indeed a reference to/reboot of her 1997 solo effort—features players familiar to Hanna’s orbit, including bassist Kathi Wilcox (Bikini Kill), guitarist Sara Landeau (a fellow rock-camp mentor), and drummer Carmine Covelli (who’s toured with Le Tigre). Keyboardist Kenny Mellman was one half of drag duo Kiki And Herb. But The Julie Ruin’s debut in band form, Run Fast, is a looser, unselfconscious take on Le Tigre’s dance-pop. If anything, the album is a really quirky new-wave record with inspiration culled from disco, surf-punk, garage rock, soul, and post-punk. Danceable beats, slashing guitars, and buzzy keyboards—encompassing beach-blanket pop, DIY electro, psych-rock, and giddy lo-fi—are at the forefront. The playful “Party City” has the cheeky edge, danceable grooves, and co-ed hand-offs of The B-52s; “Ha Ha Ha” careens like a crazy-eyed Pixies; “Girls Like Us” sounds like an early-’80s synthpop novelty; and the askew “South Coast Plaza” chronicles a fated summer romance via cheerfully off-key vocals and merry keyboards.
Fans of Hanna’s projects and politics will be pleased with Run Fast’s topics and themes, including conditional love, the idea that dancing is empowering, and reassurance that being a misfit is okay. The last topic is particularly resonant: “Ha Ha Ha” cuts to the heart of (and eviscerates) female competition, while “Girls Like Us” celebrates being different (“Girls like us are most perfect when we’re biting off all our fingernails”).
But despite Hanna’s avowed penchant for creative forward momentum, Run Fast’s ruminations on the past are most touching. On “Goodnight Goodbye,” Hanna looks back at the persona she cultivated at age 20 and wonders if assuming the same characteristics still make sense (“Pain can’t fade when you wear it as a crown”). The rhythm-heavy soul revue “Kids In NY” examines the city from a modern lens, and the title track unseals the not-quite-so-tough reality behind the riot grrrl era, but in the end realizes that the community “made tiny islands where we didn’t always have to be afraid.” Moments like these—which gracefully address the past without being trapped by any legacy or expectations—underscore the why Run Fast is so successful.