At the end of The Punk Singer, 2013’s excellent documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the former Bikini Kill frontwoman is shown struggling to cope with chronic illness yet emerging from an extended hiatus to find strength in assembling pop tunes with her new band, The Julie Ruin. Catharsis and recovery often generate compelling music, and they certainly did so on that group’s debut, Run Fast—a successful comeback that encouraged Hanna to keep at it. As that initial burst of ’90s nostalgia, media attention, and renewed interest fades (as it must), the fact remains that Hanna is seeking to reestablish herself in the indie scene. Is she eager enough to solidify this late-stage project as a real thing?
Turns out Hanna has more than enough enthusiasm to power sophomore album Hit Reset, an unconstrained, confident collection of dance-punk cuts that bubbles with exuberance even as it digs deeper into her favorite melancholy themes. Sure, the basics are all here: a lot of brash noise mixed with sarcastic observations and moody ruminations (perhaps her most personal and self-exposing to date) about child abuse, feminism (“Mr. So And So” and “Hello Trust No One” provide particularly sharp commentary to this end), sexual assault (on the snarling, aggressive “Be Nice”), and health problems. Hit Reset also contains some conspicuous risks—for her, at least—with delicate, often heartening, moments. The record even closes with an honest-to-god ballad, the soft and relatively optimistic “Calverton.”
For the most part, however, the name of this game is crisp, animated melodies and an eclectic array of styles (including glam rock, hardcore, and electronica) that’s sampled with lively bluster. True, this blueprint partially duplicates that of Hanna’s modern-day disciples, some of which, such as labelmate Tacocat, have done a more impressive job of executing it. (With the bouncy pop groove of “I’m Done,” The Julie Ruin duplicates Tacocat’s catchy, angry attacks on internet trolls.) But no matter. It’s not a competition—and, in any case, Hit Reset is commendable not because Hanna is a pioneer in the punk world, but because, after all she’s been through, she still has the vigor and passion to be a worthwhile participant.
Also: Read today’s HateSong for why Hanna can’t stand “deadbeat-dad anthem” “Cat’s In The Cradle.”