Meghan Remy's U.S. Girls project has always been a shapeshifting affair. Its earliest incarnations saw Remy creating raw solo sonics with an enormous reel-to-reel tape machine, and subsequent albums have filtered through post-industrial Throbbing Gristle-style harshness to skewed pop songs based on ragged loops of crusty girl group samples. Gem is by no means a debut for U.S. Girls, but it's easily the most polished, traditional, and realized work from the project yet, hiding the prickly noise edges that defined earlier albums under layers of studio gloss and easily recognizable pop. The album begins with some blown-out tones on what sounds like a weathered spool of tape, but quickly launches into the dreamy pop of "Another Color," an eerie full-band tune somewhere between Kate Bush's synth-driven stargazing and incidental music from Twin Peaks. The mood is thick and desolate, but doesn't stick around too long. A creeping glam groove sneaks into the picture on the noisy "Work from Home" and comes in full force on standout track "Jack," with Remy's vocals channeling Marc Bolan's sultry melodics and oozy guitars bleeding effected leads all over this incredibly catchy cover of little-known early-'90s songwriter Brock Robinson. The glam side of U.S. Girls also shows up in the Gary Glitter drums and boisterous handclaps of "Slim Baby," possibly a devotional anthem to album producer Slim Twig. Remy touches on and improves upon most previous phases of her work on Gem. Reverberated drum machine clicks point to her earliest rudimentary recording style, and there's even a full-on noise collage in the form of "Curves." She pays homage to her love of '60s AM pop with a faithful cover of Joe South's wrong-side-of-the-tracks love song "Down in the Boondocks," updating it only with crunchy guitar leads and echoey production. The song-by-song stylistic hopping makes Gem something of a mixed bag, but also keeps the momentum of the album going where earlier U.S. Girls recordings could sometimes lag. Remy's greatest gift has always been her unique ability to dismantle and reassemble the pop form in a single song, and Gem is the most vivid document of that gift yet.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas