Just like her music, Kathleen Hanna is radical, raucous and self-aware. The Julie Ruin’s banging sound and challenging lyrics are just as inseparable as Hanna’s person is from her new album, “Run Fast.”
Hanna’s fierceness and her howling vocals are still, even after a six-year hiatus due to illness, at the forefront of the feminist punk movement. Her music and punk zine writings involve a series of call-to-arms for a heightened female presence in the punk world. The Julie Ruin take after Hanna’s earlier projects: Bikini Kill was the rambunctious, 1990s vanguard of the riot grrrl movement, and Le Tigre formed in 1998 as self-proclaimed “underground electro-feminist performance artists.” With the help of four other band members, Hanna has returned to transform her 1997 independent act into the fun-seeking and subversive group, The Julie Ruin.
The result begins with romping guitar and sloshing drums while Hanna’s shattering voice goes from loud to louder, ending with a series of distorted and stylized “oh come on”s. ‘Oh Come On’ ends abruptly and unapologetically, and ‘Ha Ha Ha’ opens with a clean lick from the electric organ. The song, one of the most danceable on the record, boasts clever—almost militant—lyrics in a tirade against female rivalry: “if anti-you means anti-us / I guess we just bit the dust.” The alternate ‘Girls Like Us’ charms as it upends gender norms with a snarky, eclectic stream, going from “girls like us are maybe most perfect when we’re biting off all our fingernails” to “girls like us use highlighter pens especially to write our poems.”
Hanna’s high-pitched wails force her audience to listen (as well as dance, yell, smash the patriarchy, etc.), but her lyrics keep listeners attentive. “Run Fast” is composed of an unlikely mix of aggression and mirth, but the lyrics are personal; Hanna is unafraid to reveal and to confront. ‘Just My Kind’ is mellower than the rest of the album with its bluesy piano rhythms, crisper percussion and Hanna’s sultry coos of “I’m gonna scream it from the mountains, tell the whole world.” ‘Party City’ is carousing but confesses Hanna’s post-illness attitudes on mortality: if she’s going to die, she’s going to throw a party.
The only drawback is that the album’s start is stronger than its finish; its latter songs feel more lukewarm than their noisier, more defiant counterparts. Nevertheless, “Run Fast” is gratifying and cohesive. The full band, including a throaty male backup singer that complements Hanna’s timbre, affords a massive spectrum that stays true to its roots. In the album's final song and namesake, The Julie Ruin pulls listeners back with a less punk, more alternative guitar line and drum pattern. Hanna’s resolute clamoring doesn’t change, however, and it relentlessly strikes listeners, stark against verses and commanding amid the ruckus.
The Julie Ruin’s “Run Fast” is a thrilling, rampaging riot by nature, complete with notorious festivity, fiery feminism and deeply-felt lyricism. Kathleen Hanna is an icon, an art rocker and a riot grrrl like us. And lest we forget: “girls like us sneak breaks at Wendy’s / and girls like us invented jazz / girls like us have no foundations / creation myths are so passé!”