On their debut self-titled album, Women embraced sonic brashness that deeper examination revealed to be tinted with sly pop melody. With Public Strain the band honed a sound truthful to that reverb drenched noise while allowing the pop sensibilities to surface into clearer focus.
From the opening strains of "Can't You See" it's clear that the album is far more than just a continuation of their debut. Resting upon a plodding bass line, deadpan vocal delivery, and bowed guitars and cello, this moody, nocturnal ballad opens the album on a dark note – one that is quickly countered by "Heat Distraction", a jigsaw of bright guitar phrases and winding time signatures. This exact balance of delicate and dense is a pervasive thread throughout the album, reflecting the contradiction of the band's environment buried in urban sprawl framed by prairie landscape.
Whether twisting through the urgent krautrock of "Locust Valley", an exercise of harmony through simplicity, or climaxing with the bittersweet melody of "Eyesore", the album somehow builds luminous contrast out of a palette of grays.
In places claustrophobic, conjuring walking dreams of sexual anguish and general decay, elsewhere soaring with vintage guitar tones and vocal melodies or collapsing into swirling, mesmerizing swells, Public Strain cycles through insomnia, paranoia, resignation and euphoria, to capture a band with an undeniable voice coming into full awareness of their craft.
"What the men of Women are crafting is all their own—guitars strung over an abyss."
"It might take time to grasp, but this is one of 2010’s finest LPs."
"An enigma you resolve to crack."
- Uncut, 4/5 Stars
"Women tread the line between discord and delight with deceptive style."
- Mojo, 4/5 Stars
"One of the year's most rewarding listens is born."
- The Skinny, 4/5 Stars
"We already knew that Women could aim for the head but the likes of 'Penal Colony''s melancholy choral balladry and 'Venice Lockjaw''s sweet nostalgic lullaby prove that they can now bury their way down into the heart just as well."
- NME, 8/10
"Contrary little fucks they may be, but Women are one of the flat-out finest guitar bands around right now, and Public Strain is the shrugging, malevolent proof."
- The Quietus