For more than two decades, Kathleen Hanna has been a central figure in the marriage of activism, music, and politics. By now it seems to go without saying that together with her bandmates in Bikini Kill, Hanna helped an unapologetically feminist discourse to bubble into the mainstream, fomenting the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s. The aughts saw Hanna incorporate more electronic elements into her music with Le Tigre, a power trio whose lyrics were no less political, continuing to incorporate themes of feminism, gender politics, and sexuality into the music. By 2007, Le Tigre announced a hiatus from which the band never returned.
All of this backstory is to underscore the fact that we haven’t heard Kathleen Hanna on record in nine long years. That absence is partially due to focusing on other projects, and partially due to a long-term battle with Lyme disease. Hanna is back with a new group, The Julie Ruin (not to be confused with her 1997 solo project Julie Ruin), whose debut album Run Fast is out today. The group also reunites Hanna with Bikini Kill guitarist Kathi Wilcox, which may in part account for the album’s occasional sharing of that band’s sonic touchstones.
Despite the nine year gap between projects, Hanna’s presence is immediately recognizable on Run Fast, in its music, lyrics, and vocal styles. Whereas Bikini Kill sonically situated itself within punk rock, Le Tigre blended electronic elements with rock instrumentation. On Run Fast, The Julie Ruin establishes a stylistic midground: there are equal measures of melodic synth lines and in-your-face rock guitar, often at the same time.
There’s just as much variety here lyrically as well. From the poppy love of “Just My Kind,” the anti-essentialism embedded in “Girls Like Us,” the anthemic and personally reflective statement on male dominance in “Run Fast,” and the even the straight up goofiness of “Cookie Road” – Run Fast‘s 13 tracks seem never to stop for a breath, constantly propelling the album forward, encouraging dancing, and provoking thought. Other reviewers have accurately assessed Run Fast as combining the best elements of Hanna’s past projects. While that’s true from a strictly musical perspective, it is equally true of the album’s lyrical content. The lyrics are at times critical, arguably confrontational, yet The Julie Ruin maintains their quirky sense of humor as well.
Check out the video for album opener and lead single “Oh Come On” below.