Kathleen Hanna’s career has flowed and evolved seamlessly. The line from the heavy punk of Bikini Kill to Le Tigre’s electro-clash to The Julie Ruin, in which she neatly combined the two styles, is fairly straightforward, but also fitting. With each act, the politics have also evolved, from Bikini Kill’s radical feminist lyrics to Le Tigre’s more contemplative perspective, which notably resulted in the masterpiece “What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes?”
Personally, my favorite album from Hanna is The Julie Ruin’s Run Fast (2013), the first album Hanna released after being diagnosed with Lyme disease. Despite that fact, the album may be her most joyous, though that’s not to say it’s unpolitical—in the song “Ha Ha Ha,” the titular laughter is followed by “Armageddon.” The album featured one of 2013’s finest love songs, “Just My Kind,” and a wonderfully biting critique of gentrifying hipsters, “Kids in NY.” The world is fucked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance.
Almost three years later, Hanna is free of Lyme disease and the Julie Ruin have just released their follow-up. On Hit Reset, Hanna mostly stays away from the bits of cheerfulness that made Run Fast so distinctive. The closest this album comes to a love song is “Rather Not,” a song that, with its hook “And if you really love me/I’d really, really rather not know” and “Grand Canyon”-like melody, would fit in just fine on The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. Here, “Armageddon” isn’t worthy of laughter. Instead, Hanna finds humor in phony male feminists on “Mr. So and So” (which, as a male women’s and gender studies major, is as devastating to me as it is hilarious).
Musically, Hit Reset is mostly basic. No moments are as notable as the hand claps on “Goodnight Goodbye” or the jazzy instrumentation of “Just My Kind,” and Kenny Mellman’s vocals—utilized to great effect on Run Fast cuts like “South Coast Plaza” and “Oh Come On”—barely show up here. When the sound does get interesting, it results in the distorted “Be Nice,” which I find slightly grating, and the opening few seconds of “Planet You,” which sound uncannily like Future Islands’ “Seasons.” (Thankfully, a better song emerges, but that also means it won’t be considered song of the year.)
But the less adventurous sound helps call attention to the songwriting, which is marvelous. Among the most memorable lines include “Start a Kickstarter for your heart” and “I can play electric guitar/While shaving my legs in a moving car.” “I’m Done” is the sort of takedown of internet harassment that’s desperately needed right now, while the title track’s upbeat sound masks its subject matter, Hanna’s abusive father.
Hit Reset has a similar flaw to Run Fast, albeit to a larger degree: the last third of the album mostly fails to live up to what came before it. That is, before the closing ballad, “Calverton,” which brings things full circle, detailing how Hanna made it through her abusive childhood, ultimately thanking her mother for giving her the strength she needed: “Without you, I’d take the fifth/Or be on my deathbed, still full of wishes/But you made me think that I could fly.” “Calverton” is one of the most heartbreaking songs of the year, ending the album on a beautiful, meaningful note.
While I don’t agree with the many reviewers who seem to prefer Hit Reset to Run Fast, it is still a very good album in a career full of them. Mixing the personal with the scathingly political while also finding bittersweet humor in feminism’s biggest enemies, Hanna has delivered an album full of songs that feel relevant and necessary. If they don’t reach as many ears as they deserve to, they will at least leave an impression on those they do.