Album Reviews

Universal Sex Arena – Women Will Be Girls

(Gran Donna) UK release date: 11 February 2013

Universal Sex Arena - Women Will Be GirlsUniversal Sex Arena’s latest record, Women Will Be Girls, is a mess.

Sure, sure, that’s probably ‘the point’. The record’s distorted, incomprehensible, pitch-bending yowls; its abrasive shred of guitars; even its relentlessly drilling drums were all probably mashed together intentionally in some kind of attempt to sound imperfect or raw or intense or some other emotive word. Or, perhaps, as the group’s press kit claims, “Universal Sex Arena was born in the summer of 2009 with the precise aim of finding the missing link between Roxy Music‘s songwriting and Monotonix‘s ultimate performances.”

In any case, whatever it was that the Italian freak-noise-indie-pop-rock-etcetera group had in mind, they made a huge mess doing it. There are moments of clarity, few and far between: the Roxy Music influence really shines through on the off-kilter, meandering Waltz For Lou, and singer/band leader Nicola Stefanato’s voice maybe kind of sounds like Bryan Ferry’s if you listen for it on the aptly titled Brain Ferry. Similarly, the minimal use of oppressive noise on closing track Summer allows for the tense synth color chords to really shine, and for Stefano’s genuinely engaging vocals to come to the forefront.

Otherwise, though, Universal Sex Arena errs too heavily on the side of Monotix’s live sound – and both because their music is not thrash-worthy enough and because it is inherently impossible to replicate a live sound over iPhone earbuds, their songs never quite rise out of their murky grunge-scape. There is certainly an audience for harsh-sounding music that gains edge from poor pitch and forceful delivery, so long as it actually rocks. But much of Women Will Be Girls crosses the line into irritating noise. With songs like Raw Ride, which includes too many yelps to aurally digest, Universal Sex Arena rage themselves to death but never quite catch onto a really corporal groove.

On The Light Ones, Stefanato sports a rich vibrato, but he simply misses the pitch just too often to pull of a successful vocal delivery. Elsewhere, on album opener Drum Affaire, Stefanato makes the same mistake – and, in fact, the group shows the potential to be a great band instrumentally, with a rollicking guitar line and a churning bass line. Unfortunately, again, their technical prowess is overshadowed by the discord: while the arrangement surely changes often, and samples a variety of musical styles (from eastern modes to western punk), the song still never quite feels like its going anywhere. Furthermore, the bleep-and-bloop, freak-folk, talk-sung Slow Down, which does showcase the variety of the group’s influences, ends up sounding unpleasant, and ultimately unnecessary.

In the end, 53 minutes of this kind of slight but certain overkill makes the album a somewhat tedious listen. Eventually, though, the album closes (at the tail end of Summer), finishing off with one minute and two seconds of a single, dirty synth drone. In a way, this summarizes everything that has come before it on Women Will Be Girls: a curious, grimy, but potentially interesting sound that is just too gritty, and lasts just too long.

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