Some self-important critic somewhere will review Baby In Vain‘s first EP and say they saw it coming. Over the last couple of years, bands like Dilly Dally, Like A Motorcycle and Ex Hex have all come along and resurfaced the road which once traced the way between hardcore, metal and grunge and also renewed interest in hearing strong, distinct female creative voices. Call it the return of strong female performers to the spotlight or the emergence of a new appreciation of a uniquely female sensibility in rock, the point is that the biggest and boldest rock stars to appear over the last little while have been women. With that stage set, Baby In Vain has arrived after a string of well-received singles to deliver For The Kids – an EP so thick and heavy, it can make listeners worry about whether or not they’ll be able to survive the experience when the band gets around to unloading a full-length album.
Even if they’re expecting it, listeners will still be shocked and knocked off balance when “Martha’s View” opens the A-side of For The Kids and crashes over them with waves of distortion and bone-crushing drums. The assault is almost elemental in its force and indiscriminate in its impact, and presents a perfect foil for the almost sweet, breathless vocals offered by guitarists Lola Hammerich and Andrea Thueson (in the tradition of Sleater-Kinney, this three-piece has no bassist); in this particular case, the effect proves to be perfectly hypnotic because the incredible weight of the guitars and drums hits listeners so hard that they’ll feel as though they have no choice but to submit, and then the vocals soothe their ravaged senses.
The onslaught first incited by “Martha’s View” continues unabated and undiminished with “Muscles” – the second song on the EP’s A-side. There, Benedicte Pierleoni’s drums find the midpoint between “stomp” and “swagger” to open the song and the stringy but seething guitars strapped to them match that impression – thereby inspiring sneers among those listening, whether it’s intentional or not before the chorus overdrives and overwhelms everything. When the track crashes to a close and summarily ends the side, (after they collect themselves) listeners will discover that while JUST TWO SONGS left them feeling pretty worked-over, they’ll still want more and will change sides as quickly as they’re able.
While they may be expecting more of the same abuse (and yes, the B-side does get hard), Baby In Vain at least starts by taking it easy on listeners – if only to ramp them up to a grand pounding. The first song, “Worthwhile,” lives up to its name but eases listeners in sardonically so that they’re feeling comfortable. Over a very calm and quiet rhythm figure, the band seethes at the song’s start with just enough rage implied in the song’s undercurrent to make those nasty little hairs on the backs of listeners’ necks stand at attention (check out lines like “Never felt everything in the world would lie within our hands/Never thought we could call out the world and wind up with tired hands/ Oh, we made it worthwhile” – they about sum it up) before just erupting like Mount St. Helens for the chorus.
It’s a very different kind of track, place within the context of the For The Kids EP, but still fits in well because it illustrates that Baby In Vain might be capable of a little more than the Riot Grrl-ing done on the EP’s A-side; there is delicacy and damage here, and it’s simultaneously pulverizing and poppy. Comparatively, the dark and dramatic “Tom Sawyer”-esque drone of “The Urge” and the methodical Sleater-Kinney songwriting workshop “Jesusfreaks” are good, but but don’t betray as much promise; they’re exciting, but just not as comparatively satisfying.
In the end, those who went front-to-back with the For The Kids EP will still be excited at what they’ve heard, and will find they have a lot of trouble containing that enthusiasm. It’s just too good; between the A-side and “Worthwhile,” Baby In Vain has charted out a few of the points in a new constellation that might be the one which leads to rock’s next great rebirth. It’s just so fucking cool – and listeners smiling blissfully at it as they watch the bruises raise from their first listen.