Review by Emily Nemens
In Europe, Nov. 11 is known as Armistice Day—the anniversary of the 1918 armistice between the Allies and Germany, which effectively ended WWI. My partner, who lived in Ireland for most of a decade, described how people wear poppies on their lapels to commemorate the war’s fallen soldiers, and across Britain, France, and the Germany, people gather for memorial services around each town’s cenotaph. His rowing club had a ceremony every year, in Dublin’s War Memorial Park, remembering young men who had fallen for their country, nearly a century before them. Then they got back in the boat and started working again.
The somber traditions of Europe make America’s version of the holiday, Veterans’ Day, feel a little shallow. There are some commemorations around the country, to be sure, but for people of my generation (lower cusp X, upper cusp millennial) and those younger, Veteran’s Day is better known for its sales.
Until this year. This Nov. 11 many of us are thinking about a much more recent battle. It is not the tragedy of WWI, but it feels like a profound loss for a progressive, inclusive country. Lives were not lost, but many Americans’ safety and wellbeing are now threatened by the election of Donald Trump to president. I could enumerate all the groups he’s threatened and insulted, and those whose safety has already been threatened (please follow #reporthate), but this is a music review. Last week, editor extraordinaire Rebecca DeRosa asked me to review Female Frequency’s new single, “Factory.” I gave it a quick listen, liked what I heard of Dani Mari and I Am Snow Angel’s newest project, and signed on. Then the election happened, and everything feels different.
I’m just getting back to the review today, Veteran’s Day. Now, the opening image of the video—a coiffed woman standing on a ladder, dropping two radios so they smash to smithereens just above the camera’s vantage, feels like an visual representation of what happened on Tuesday night. Then, ethereal lyrics emerge and reinforce the smashed feeling: “I used to think I was inflammable, until you took me apart.” Yes! I wasn’t thinking about immolation, per se, on election night, but the anticipation of having a woman president was emboldening, and then it was ripped away by the antiquated Electoral College system.
But after that first deflation, another message, a more positive one, rises in the beautifully produced song and video (hat tip to coproducer Dara Hirsch and engineer Maria Rice). The dreamy vocals lift into a more positive message, on where the narrator is saved, “pulled from the fire.” And by the refrain, “Steal me away from here… show me how to feel well again,” you realize this isn’t a song about getting smooshed but one about building things together, as women, hand in hand. It echoes the project of Female Frequency, which Dani Mari and I Am Snow Angel founded. It’s a collective of musicians and producers who made an all-female album, which “means that all of the writing, instrumentation, arrangement, performance, production, engineering, mixing, mastering, marketing and visual media were carried out by females.” Music is not unlike politics in that many aspects of the business have been dominated by men since the days of old. To hear such a compelling collective effort is inspiring in its own right (visit femalefrequency.com to see more projects).
But back into the “Factory” itself. The soft but pressing synth pushes the song forward. Paired with the gracefully edited found footage video–female factory workers putting together radios, manning microphones, doing things with blowtorches—the tenor changes flips from destruction to creation. Factory work can be repetitive and exhausting and thankless—you see all of that in the clips. But, as the occasional smile flashes on the screen, you realize it can be fun, too. There’s collaboration here, and there’s strength.
Listen, I liked “Fight Song” as much as any liberal woman, and it felt like a perfect anthem for Hillary’s campaign. But it’s Armistice/Veteran’s Day, the “fight” –at least the battle of the election—is over, and our next challenge lays ahead. The next battles won’t be won at the top, but by the collective effort of very many, all of us strong women throwing radios and soldering pieces together until we’re exhausted, then doing it all again. What will we sing? I don’t know. But listening to “Factory” feels like the right way to remember what we’ve lost, and to rise from the ashes.
Emily Nemens is a writer and illustrator based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is coeditor of The Southern Review.