MeanGirls Make You Squirm in the Best Possible Way

by Justin FinneyMean Girls Squirm

The music critic intelligentsia generally has a derisive opinion (if it has an opinion at all) on modern day emo music. The consensus seems to be that emo (a subgenre of punk) is so emotionally overwrought and devoid of lyrical irony that it can’t be taken seriously (ironic in of itself since most emo bands are hyper-serious in their presentation). And I must confess at the outset of this review—I count myself as one of those aforementioned critics who think that most of what passes for emo today is simply god-awful. If you’ve recently landed on a Clear Channel radio station in your car by accident and heard Fall Out Boy’s latest single “Centuries,” you will know what I mean.

But if you feel prepped now for a negative review of MeanGirls’ debut album Squirm, I’d like to remind you that emo originally morphed from the Washington D.C. post-hardcore scene in the mid-‘80s when the band Rites of Spring released their seminal self-titled LP. There has been a musical progression from creativity to convention along the historical timeline of emo, and Squirm, in spirit, occupies a much closer point on this timeline to the good old days of the emo scene.

MeanGirls is a four piece emo-punk band from Austin that started playing shows locally around the end of 2014. On their website (and worth checking out for the gritty homemade quality) are four earlier Squirm demos available to stream or buy on cassette. Squirm is pretty lean when taken as a whole (less than 20 minutes of music stretched across nine tunes,) but the songs, succinct as they are, still sound well thought out and fully formed. Unlike the relative straightforwardness of most punk rock out there, there’s a lot happening here structurally.

Erratic changes in drumbeats on tunes like “Perfect Symmetry” (a quick 2/4 beat played from behind on the end of each verse) occur frequently and give the album a math-rock feel at times. And much of the guitar work is reminiscent of the more melodic stuff from Sonic Youth’s oeuvre, as on the opening track “A Comprehensive List of My Failures.” These songs are coated in a patina of ‘90s alternative rock and played with the galloping swagger of punk rock.

Thematically, this album at its center is about coming to terms with self-identity and bucking the intolerant attitudes that exist in our culture toward transgendered men and women. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Trans Exclusionary Radical Fecal Matter,” a humorous and caustic statement against those who would stand in the way of transgender progress. On a more personal level for the songwriter, the topic of transformation functions as the centerpiece of the previously mentioned track “Perfect Symmetry” when vocalist Raine Hopper defiantly sings “I’m gonna be born again” over a catchy chorus that features backing vocals by guitarist Morgan McCoy.

On the topic of vocals, Hopper delivers all of hers in a constant growl that fluctuates between subdued and extreme. A good display of this shift in dynamics happens on “I’m Gonna Eat Your Brains and Gain Your Knowledge.” The song opens with pretty vocal harmonies sung over a lachrymose arpeggiated guitar line that extends about a third of the way into the song. But just as it begins to hit a sweet spot, everything shifts to a bouncy middle section that features some very upbeat and enjoyable interweaving guitar melodies—so enjoyable in fact that I found myself wishing they’d extended through to the end of the song, which I found a little underwhelming in contrast to everything that preceded it.

Squirm is one of those punk albums that will probably garner polarized reactions from listeners. The forcefully delivered emo-style vocals will not suit everyones ears. But you can’t accuse Raine Hopper of lacking heart, which she and the rest of the band deliver in cathartic spades on Squirm.

MeanGirls will be celebrating the release of Squirm this Friday, February 12th at Beerland with Bum Out, Sherman’s March and New China.

Justin Finney moved from Oklahoma to Austin TX in 2004 and has never looked back. He played around Austin in the band Shortwave Party for a few years and attributes most of his social capital in this fair city to that experience.