Album Review: Pussy Riot EP

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In all rock music, but punk music particularly, myth is vital. So what happens when the existence of music actively takes away from its meaning?

To put it generously, the footing of Pussy Riot’s public image has become…shaky. Which may not bode well for their first-ever release eligible for its own Metascore.

Never mind that they’re teaming up with Adult Swim for this trio of songs; they’ve already made a song for Banksy’s Dismaland (and he’s in a similar boat as a fellow revolutionary-gone-tacky) and have, in fact, gone the full normie by appearing on and writing a song for the US iteration of House of Cards. Not to mention the internal struggles that neither your nor I could possibly hope to parse.

But before we truly look into that beast, we need to look back and let us remind ourselves that Pussy Riot, aside from being a fantastic story about artistic freedom and a great movement in and of itself, was a great band despite that being so besides the point. Pussy Riot’s story was absolutely enough – three women jailed in Russia for punk rocking in a church – but after the myth had already spread, they managed to release the best song of 2012.

“Putin Puts Out the Fires” was the first song after their Kill the Sexist EP, an unofficial release which might be a fan compilation but might be an official release and no one would know (such is the nature of the beast), but includes their first six songs. Translated, they were “Release the Cobblestones,” “Kropotkin Vodka,” “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” (their famous punk prayer that preceded their arrest), “Putin Zassal,” “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protests,” and “Kill the Sexist.” This was the band at their purest even if the music wasn’t actually the best, but, like The Clash, their next release after their tinny first outing sat you down and blew your socks off.

Putin was a simple enemy, an opponent of art and an imprisoner of artists, and his relationship to Pussy Riot fans stateside had yet to become complicated. In fact, in 2012, the prevailing party laughed Mitt Romney out of the race for his feverish focus on Russia.

A new focus on Russia has since become more mainstream, with the world’s focus on the country and its LGBT laws reaching a fever pitch during the Sochi Olympics, for which Pussy Riot filmed another video: “Putin Will Teach You How To Love The Motherland.” Even more eyes went to Russia as the country annexed Crimea and the second 777 of the year came down, this time over Ukraine.

Pussy Riot has released four songs since “Motherland” (including their first two in the English language) and Putin still looms large over their new EP, particularly given the efforts by the Democratic Party to align Donald Trump with Vladimir Putin, a charge that’s given a strange amount of prominence given Trump’s more obviously deplorable transgressions.

Pussy Riot’s possible alignment with Democratic Party messaging is uncomfortable, and it might help to untangle this with the help of another band.

I’m deeply sorry to bring up Le Tigre’s “I’m With Her,” but it represents the defanged feminist punk that I’ve certainly feared Pussy Riot might flirt with, and they actually come closer than you’d think on their first EP.  “I’m With Her” parrots, its mentality is less evil or harmful but just as fatefully simple as Trump slogan “Build The Wall.”

So now that Le Tigre has tackled Hillary’s hashtag, Pussy Riot has tackled Trump’s. Two things to note: 1. They’re singing in English 2. this ain’t punk. It’s almost punkedly un-punk, built atop a flamenco-ish guitar loop gliding above a lightly popping and snapping drum track.

And some of it is pretty simple. Donald Trump is a sexist. Donald Trump is a rude man. And both of those things are true, but do we really need Pussy Riot to tell us? The commercials littered in the commercial break for my Thunder/Warriors game can tell me that.

But what I admire are the little things they slip in that Hillary herself won’t bring up. They mention Palestine! “Stop killing black children”! Hillary even seldom brings up Trump’s advocacy of torture, and it’s right here. “Make America Great Again” works not just as a dig on Trump, but as a reminder that we need to be good to our own downtrodden and to the rest of the world. You get the sense that Pussy Riot does not agree with Hillary Clinton that America is already great.

The rest of the EP is totally different, but the quality is about the same: good, but with baggage. “Organs” is a spoken-word return to the Russian language. ” “Straight Outta Vagina” is a hyperactive pop romp dedicated to worship of where all of us are from, in the sort of song I’d have expected Le Tigre to return with.

Have you watched those videos yet? If you have, you’ll notice two things: 1. Lots of music is credited to TV on the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound genius Dave Sitek, which is really weird and 2. Nadya Tolokonnikova’s presence is all-encompassing, with the Pussy Riot conceit remaining in name only.

This is unfortunate, to say the very least. Though Nadya has been the most visible member of Pussy Riot since they were in prison, and the infighting in the group has been hard to ignore, raising questions of how well the group has stuck to its original purpose. And I’d be pretty unable to answer that question. And wth this new EP is released, we’ve just gotten further from the myth, the moment, the simple story. But this EP is good music, and part of the fun is untangling an increasingly imperfect story.

Score: 8/10

Joey's a 23-year-old who graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris and now lives in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He enjoys art, activism, and politics, especially when he's looking at them through a lens of popular culture. First and foremost he's obsessed with popular music, but aside from what you'd expect, he's also into comic strips, graphic novels, cartoons, and indie games made for mobile phones (his highest tile in Threes is 3,072). He'll tell you that his favorite book of all time is Goodnight Moon. He needs more people in his life who understand the joys of Achewood.