Graded on a Curve:
Skinny Girl Diet,
Ideal Woman

London-based feminist rock outfit Skinny Girl Diet have been extant for roughly eight years now, with their second album unveiling a two-piece lineup consisting of sisters Delilah and Ursula Holliday. It’s a focused contraction that ramps up the rock-heaviness as it eschews hand-me-down formulas; having been previously, somewhat lazily categorized as an extension/ revamp of punk disruptiveness and Riot Grrl in particular, Skinny Girl Diet continues to sharpen their distorted groove power unburdened by the weight of precedent while railing against gender and racial injustice with intensity and succinctness. Ideal Woman’s vinyl edition arrives January 19 through Happy Happy Birthday to Me.

Comparisons of Skinny Girl Diet to punk and Riot Grrl were perhaps inevitable and not terribly inappropriate, as the unit have surely played a role in effectively extending those traditions, the good parts anyway, even if that was never by deliberate design. It’s also worth noting that Skinny Girl Diet’s existence predates the #MeToo movement by more than a couple years, as they emerged on cassette, CDR, and 7-inch vinyl (the latter a split with Ethical Debating Society) beginning in 2012. A sprinkling of releases followed, capped with their solid full-length debut Heavy Flow in 2016.

For folks having experienced the burst of women’s rock in the ’90s, Skinny Girl Diet can register as familiar in both lyrical content and instrumental thrust, but Heavy Flow was unhampered by calculation in its overall heft, and it’s a scenario only amplified across Ideal Woman as the lineup adjusts to the core of Delilah Holliday on vocals and guitar and Ursula on drums.

The difference is perceptible if not huge. On Heavy Flow, Skinny Girl Diet regularly operated as a rumbling steamroller (underlining associations to punk), but their new one, befitting of rock duos, is more about groove pummel but with considerable attention to fully fleshed-out songs. This is heard straight away in Ideal Woman’s opener “La Sirena,” with its increasingly borderline funk-rockish foundation nicely matched with amp crunch and vocal soulfulness (fitting, given the track’s title).

But the connections to past work are sturdy, with “Witch of the Waste” speeding up the tempo and delivering a hearty mauling. The singing, here more conversational and with lyrics detailing individuality and coping in a world overloaded with shitty interactions (as it played, the phrase “killing yourself to live” came to mind) retains the soul edge and then expands into an effects-driven echo-swirl in the ramped-up conclusion.

“Shed Your Skin” begins with stabbing-stinging punk guitar (like an enormous tattoo needle vibrating into action), but as the drums kick in the cut solidifies how the trajectory of Ideal Woman is significantly impacted by heaviness that’s tangibly “classic rock.” Indeed, it’s actually kinda blues-rocky, though like many contempo power duos, the whole is highly distorted and relentlessly pounding.

Ultimately, it’s quite far from any retrograde brand of blues-rock, current or otherwise, as the Gaze-related subject matter blooms into the downright sarcasm of the title track. Additionally, the playing shifts a bit, offering quieter guitar-strummed verses that are alternated with choruses of prime rock explosiveness.

With “Human Zoo,” they match a big beat with hovering, somewhat ominous guitar and further inject it with bursts of pedal-stomping abrasion as Delilah’s pipes detour into a sorta moody pop zone, a blend reexplored in the immediately following “Starfucker” without ever seeming as if they’re falling into a rut of repetitiveness. This is in large part due to the nature of the tunes, which can recall the spate of non-Riot Grrl ‘90s Alt/ indie women rock acts; think 7 Year Bitch, L7, Babes in Toyland, etc.

It’s an aura reinforced pretty strongly in “Western Civilization,” though Skinny Girl Diet excel by not falling victim to cliché (something those abovementioned predecessors occasionally struggled with). Furthermore, the deft gear shifts and wailing of the concise “Outsider” recall the goods found on Kill Rock Stars’ series of ’90s comps. “Timing” returns to the rising-falling tactic of “Human Zoo” and “Starfucker” but enhances it with layered and wordless vocals, and if “Golden” doesn’t deviate much from the template, it does deliver a few of the record’s most intense passages.

Stylistically, “Warrior Queen” does step out more than bit, throwing down a riff-stomp that’s somewhat evocative of ’80s hard rock, at least initially. Unsurprisingly, aggressiveness and sheer distortion overtake matters, and the track leads into the privilege-deriding “White Man,” its anthemic quality well-positioned here as the record’s penultimate entry.

The set concludes with “Click Bait,” which begins as chunky duo burn and then quickly erupts into a raucous soul-punk gallop to the finish line. At a few minutes over half an hour, Ideal Woman is a more compact blast than Skinny Girl Diet’s first LP, and if its songs stand up individually, they thrive when heard in rapid fire succession. That is, Ideal Woman is truly successful as an album, reinforcing increased assurance while simultaneously radiating the impression of two women who are just getting warmed up.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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