Issue #39: Girls With Glasses by Partyline

October 24, 2016

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Girls With Glasses by Partyline
Released On June 14, 2005
Released By Retard Disco Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Laura Burroughs

I only have two regrets in life. This is the story of the first one.

Dark blonde wood gleamed down the bar, prominently set up a step off the ground in the middle of the room. Buffalo’s, a ridiculously named restaurant, faced Magnolia Avenue, one of the streets lined with the coffee shops and cutesy gift stores found close to Auburn University’s campus. Prominent windows showed booths filled with ponytailed moms, polo-shirted dads, and kids laughing, coloring on sheets from the restaurant in the time before smartphones. Go in the door, hook a sharp left, past the pool tables, and pull open that discreet door, painted black; enter into a low-ceilinged room, lit dimly with sconces randomly dotting the black walls. Back here, the bar is ringed with watermarks and chipped paint, fifths of Jagermeister and Evan Williams see more action than Grey Goose and Maker’s Mark, and in the hands of almost all the poor college students talking through the smoke, is an endless parade of $1 bottles of PBR. At 22, I had recently graduated and been promoted from salesperson to product photographer at the art gallery where I worked. Sitting on a rickety stool one particular night, gripping the first of maybe four $1 bottles I could afford, the weight of that job tightened my jaw, whitened my knuckles. At 6 AM the next morning, I was riding to Atlanta to photograph James Dean, the artist who created Pete The Cat, as he painted in his home studio. All the photos would come from my camera; photographing quick hand movements, gleaming paint, getting these shots clearly without too much reflection in the paint was my sole, brand new, responsibility. Yet there I sat, nursing that beer, because around 10 PM whatever opening band would step down off the little semicircle stage built into the corner and Partyline would plug in their guitars.

In 2005, the Riot Grrrl movement was pretty much over. By the time that music blew my life apart, the sound had evolved past the pure garage rage that fueled Bikini Kill and Heavens To Betsy. Like with Motown, I had already mourned how I would never experience that living scene, but then the supreme goddess that is Allison Wolfe put together Partyline and brought that sound down from DC to a sketchy back room bar in Auburn, Alabama.

Every promise I made to myself that I was leaving soon was broken in succession. Every empty bottle I turned full again, caught up in the giddiness and fervor of the sound. In that tiny dark room, Partyline brought to life the straightforward, tight drumming and relentless guitar riffs that shove this music up into your face. Jumping around in booty shorts and knee socks, Wolfe sang about not wanting to get married, not needing anything from men, not taking shit with the same high, sharp voice cutting right through the noise of the guitar, delivered in an almost detached, almost apathetic delivery she used in Bratmobile. Jumping with her, spilling beer on my Mary Janes, I felt the pull of women before me, crowding the stage, uncaring of bodies slamming in from all sides.

Nervous after the show, never sure how to do this, I went up to her, thanked her for her music, and broke another promise to leave as we stayed, our conversation about feminism and sexism in the South threaded in between songs from the final band. Sweaty, a little drunk, exhausted at 2 AM, Wolfe asked me to come back to her hotel, keep talking about what it was like to help found a women’s organization in such a conservative climate.

And here is the regret. Here is the part where I sealed this as a memory not just of a musical gift, a rarity unanticipated, but as one of the two regrets I have. In the crush of paying the tab, the still dim house lights turned up, people slinging arms around waists and stumbling out into the night, I sadly smiled, thanked her again, and walked out, armed with the Girls With Glasses EP and thoughts of waking up in a few hours mingled with the delicious thrill of having seen an idol shake her pigtails and fill up a room with her voice.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

Angela! Crystal! Allison! Par! Ty! Line!

“There’s a party going on and we’re not invited!” I’ve never felt more involved with a record’s opening statement than when the ladies of Partyline started off with this on Girls With Glasses. The punk rockers don’t care that they’re not invited. They kick down the doors with their fast-paced punk anthems and command you to listen to their music. It reminds me of the classic punk sound I love so much. While the record is only six songs, I found myself listening over and over again. I love the screaming of the band members’ names in “Nuthaus.” It’s nice to learn everyone’s name while listening. Angela! Allison! Crystal! Par-ty-line! I felt like I had been invited to a party with the uncool kids who were actually way cooler than the cool kids. This party was way better.

Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler

You know that verse in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” when he goes all meta and turns the chord progression into lyrics? “It goes like this / The fourth, the fifth / The minor fall, the major lift / The baffled king composing ‘Hallelujah.'” Gets me every time. I’m a sucker for that kind of fourth wall demolition. My dad made postmodernism a focus of his academic career and would chat my sister and me up about it whenever he saw it in action in movies or TV, which may explain why the chorus of “No Romantic” turned out to be my entry point into Girls With Glasses. I’d been listening to the album in distracted situations — mostly driving around in a hurry — but during one of those car rides, it registered that this perfect, melodically hooky chorus I’d been enjoying implored both “Give me something to grab onto” and “Give me something to react to.” In the face of distraction and unfamiliarity with Partyline, I suddenly had something to grab onto. I reacted. I can’t say for sure that they meant to go meta here, but they certainly address the audience elsewhere, mentioning the band’s name in several spots, like in “Nuthaus,” which is powered by a simultaneous roll call/rallying cry: “Angela! Allison! Crystal! Par-ty-line!” The name itself radiates irony. That consciousness of self lends dimensionality to the album’s political intensity — the kind of dimensionality my dad loved. Would that I could chat him up about Partyline.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

While my teenage peers were trying to be more like Kathleen Hanna, I wanted to be Allison Wolfe from Bratmobile, Cold Cold Hearts, and other bands, including today’s OYR selection, Partyline. For one, she is brilliant at using humor to cut through the misogynist bullshit of punk rock. “I don’t want to talk about the Wipers / Weren’t those the good ole days?” she sang in “Cool Schmool.” In “Cheap Trick Record,” she snarled at a former lover, “Don’t write a song about it / Just gimme back my Cheap Trick record.” Her attitude was clearly the inspiration for bands like Tacocat, who make catchy punk that is both funny and subversive. She was also sexually explicit and aggressive in ways that other women musicians I listened to at the time — besides Liz Phair on Exile In Guyville — just weren’t. Imagine being a young girl and hearing, “Get on your knees and suck my clit / If you’re going to lie and say that shit” (from “Brat Girl“) or “Gimme head or gimme justice” from Partyline’s “No Romantic,” for the first time. Many of the critiques of Bratmobile I heard at the time were aimed at her vocal delivery, but on Partyline’s 2005 EP Girls With Glasses, there are honest-to-god harmonies (and great ones, at that). There’s also a song about Ralph Nader (“Unsafe At Any Speed“), which seemed dated when this EP came out, but now serves as an interesting mirror for our own political climate. That review was also strangely concerned with Girls With Glasses as a “party record,” like it is somehow bad, but when I’m not listening to pretty, sad music, I am thirsting for something fun and infectious. I’m wondering why I haven’t made a get-me-through-the-week playlist with “Cicada Summer” in the past few days that I’ve been immersed with the record. Look, shit is kind of fucked up right now, so it is really the perfect time to listen to Girls With Glasses. As the song goes, “Partyline will blow your mind.”

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

Do you really want another dude’s opinion on Partyline? Here goes: Thirteen minutes of perfectly snarky punk rock, that is brilliantly bookended with the statement “There’s a party going on, and we’re not invited!” and a great cover of Nikki & The CorvettesGirls Like Me.” Find and support your local Girls Rock Camp here.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

A common Allison Wolfe pose for any Partyline set, with a shirt that seems tailor made for her lyrics.

America’s future is in the balance, Europe is in the midst of a migrant crisis, and Britain decided to take their ball and go home. But who cares about all that? Partyline are here to have fun! Girls With Glasses may only be twelve minutes long, but it is twelve glorious minutes that reminds you of the fun of making music. When listening to music, my brain usually goes into a creativity overdrive. Many a car or train journey I’ve spent looking out of a window with my music on coming up with music videos for the songs I’m listening too. Other times I imagine songs in films or as alternative soundtracks. Girls With Glasses for some reason just reminded me of Sex Bob-omb from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Why? Well, I think it might be the exuberant rawness and edge of each and every track. I had to double check they weren’t actually on the soundtrack, I’m that convinced they’d be a perfect fit for that movie. The six tracks are fairly simple in melody and structure, but that’s to its advantage as the music paves way for lyrics that feel like they’re bottled up in the mid-’00s zeitgeist. It’s fast, it’s noisy, but Partyline definitely have something to say. If this is just a taste, I’m looking forward to the main course.

James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist

Okay, I loved this one. I love the combination of driving, huge energy music with lyrics that are empowering and smart and sneering. I love that they mention their own band by name in 3 of the 6 songs. I love how “Girls Like Me” starts “Hot off the press / I got the news / Time is right / You just can’t lose” in a way that feels off-beat when it starts, but by the time the rhyme resolves, I realize that “no, I’m wrong” and I should leave well enough alone with this “off-beat” claptrap. Partyline know what they’re doing. My daughter (5.75 years old) told me today that she wants to be a “rockstar-artist” when she grows up and now I need to figure out how to introduce this to her at an age and in a context where she doesn’t think of it as “Something Dad Played For Me, Therefore Dad Music” and instead listens to it and feels inspired and empowered to be loud and honest and proud and in-your-face! Even if she doesn’t make music/art that resembles this at all, because I truly believe that girls like her were born to rock and roll.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

Forget Riot Grrrl, Partyline’s music could gain a following in any era, ranging from punk’s year zero to today.

Girls With Glasses is a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get kinda record. And what you hear is Riot Grrrl revivalism that’s brattier than Bratmobile (so surprise that singer Allison Wolfe was in that band), filled with ironic Beatle-esque background vocals, and sounding like it was recorded in a Captain Crunch box. Nothing complex, no deep analysis required. Just the sound that could put paid to a patriarchy or take down a totalitarian regime. Having this on your phone is the equivalent of a concealed weapon. Unsafe At Any Speed is right!

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Thirteen spirited minutes of punk music with raw, lo-fi stylings. In keeping with their targeted era, the mastering is low, so you’ll want to crank it up for full effect. My favorite is “Cicada Summer” with the sampled intro, feedback squall giving way to interlocking drums and riffs. Both “Nuthaus” and “No Romantic” find expanded sonic depth and clarity on the subsequent release Zombie Terrorist, but are keen in their rough-hewn state. “Girls Like Me” strikes me as a Sex Pistols meets Kiss anthem. And so I’m hearing just as much nostalgia as fury for a 2006 release. It runs ragged, but never derails, never dissolves or devolves fully. The focused energy is the point as they lose the trappings of other types of musicality in favor of directness. Which nine times out of ten means this is really best experienced in a live context. I want to feel that amp sear a little bit. It’s not quite as nuanced nor heavy as the post-punk influenced Riot Grrrl sector like Sleater-Kinney. It also favors fervor over pop, unlike a catchy Tacocat. But in any case, this is a jaunty set of tunes that would feel right at home in any punk playlist.

Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz

I love girls with glasses. Not necessarily the EP; but the general concept. I’m not quite sure why. I know that it’s not the “hot librarian” fantasy that everyone thinks, because let’s face it, there are no hot librarians. Maybe it’s that subconsciously in my mind they literally can’t see that they’re way out of my league? Their biggest strength is also their biggest weakness. Or maybe it’s that every pretty girl with glasses is potentially Tina Fey? Yeah, let’s go with the Tina Fey thing for a minute. She rocks, just like Partyline. If I were to assign a theme song to Tina’s life, it would be “Girls Like Me.” If you made it to the chorus of this record, it’s pretty self explanatory. She’s funny, just like Partyline (see “No Romantic“). What female group do you know would pen lyrics like “give me head, or give me death”? Little known fact, that line was actually Patrick Henry’s first draft, but his mistress suggested that he change the line to “give me liberty, or give me death” (deep cut Seinfeld reference for the win!). And Tina’s also fearless, just like Partyline. This EP is unapologetically raw. The drums are way offbeat here, the amp noise is way loud over there, and it may or may not have been recorded in a shoe box… but hey, girls with glasses can get away with anything.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Unlike other debut releases, Girls With Glasses doesn’t need a grand statement to cement the band’s identity. Partyline’s rich pedigree speaks for itself, and they clearly understand and value the history of punk music since they named themselves after a fantastic Government Issue song. The EP’s six songs whip by so fast that some hardly make an impression long enough to even make a statement at all, yet Girls With Glasses does contain a grand statement… quite a few actually. “Nuthaus” provides a catchy identifier that far surpasses Snoop Dogg’s classic introduction “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” in announcing their band, their names, and their sound to the world. The opening moments of “Unsafe At Any Speed” show the mindset behind the band and its charm, while the liberating lyrics of “No Romantic” offers up multi-layered (and trademark) snark that’s effortlessly incisive. The grandest statement though comes at the EP’s end with their cover of Nikki & The Corvettes’ “Girls Like Me.” The mere concept of a song about “Girls Like Me” speaks to Partyline’s core, but so does which specific “Girls Like Me” song they ultimately chose. There are dozens, probably more, of songs out there with that title by artists like Miranda Lambert and Mary Chapin Carpenter even down to non-female artists like the good, but misguided band TV Girl and clueless Will Joseph Cook. But the strongest of these would have to be Bonnie Hayes’ forgotten New Wave gem whose chorus actually mirrors Partyline’s own identity. “They got a word for girls like me / They’ve got a name, but they don’t wanna use it / It’s all the same to girls like me / It’s all or nothing to girls like me.” It’s perfect for Riot Grrrl’s brand of empowering lyrics and since much of punk music was built on music that was definitely not punk, you could even overlook the New Wave sound. It seems like a perfect fit, but does ignore the aspect of Partyline that most accurately sums them up. They are a female rock band with as much emphasis on female as rock. Why not pay tribute to another great female rocker and show who you really are? As the song goes, “girls like me were born to rock and roll” and that’s exactly what you get from Partyline on Girls With Glasses.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Cathedral City by Victoire
Chosen By Guest Contributor Nandi Rose Plunkett (Half Waif)

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Laura Burroughs, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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