While adhering to their indie rock lo-fi grit, Women broadened its horizons for its follow-up. Two years in the making, Public Strain is more drastic than the debut in that the darker parts are more abrasive, the releases of tension are more pleasing, and the shimmering, steel-plate melodies are more evocative. There’s a huge sense of depth to the album, especially for one locked in a genre that tends to be minimal. Jarring, jangly guitar chords are stacked upon countless layers of vocals, bass, drums, and cello, all dripping with distortion and reverb. In an era where every third lo-fi act sounds like they’re emulating an ‘80s teen-romance soundtrack, this is closer to an art-house horror soundtrack scored by Deerhunter or Deerhoof. The arresting amount of noise can be off-putting (return producer Chad Vangaalen admitted to throwing out certain tracks because they sounded too pretty, and used dirt-filled, cassette recorded takes instead), but if you stick with the album and listen to it in its entirety -- as it’s made to be heard -- the inherent beauty grows clearer. A discordant cello sawed in the background of "Narrow with the Hall,” serves only to strike fear into its '60s pop heart. Elsewhere, Reimer, Wallace, and the Flegel brothers take “Drag Open” from one extreme to another -- from a grating, stressful post-punk number, to a Thurston Moore-inspired, custom-tuned dreamscape -- before the claustrophobic “Eyesore” opens up to a chamber doo wop harmony as a gorgeous finale. At the surface, the temperature is icy. But like a cold lake’s waters, the music of Public Strain becomes less drastic; comforting even, given time.
AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover