8 Inch Betsy's 'The Mean Days' Is a Vital Expression of Community-Building

8 Inch Betsy's 'The Mean Days' Is a Vital Expression of Community-Building
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Music, at its best, is a statement in a larger conversation. The Mean Days by 8 Inch Betsy is a particularly great example of this.

The Mean Days is a collection of 14 songs being released digitally five and a half years after the tragic death of lead singer Meghan Galbraith. The album was first released in 2015, just months after Galbraith's death, though the recent release is the first digital one. Galbraith's memory lives on in the hearts of a wide range of people — from Chicago then-mayor Rahm Emanuel to the clientele at the café where she worked to the kids at Girls Rock! Chicago where she volunteered. She was the cornerstone of a community. In addition to fostering community in Chicago, 8 Inch Betsy toured the U.S. many times.

8 Inch Betsy was classified as queercore — an offshoot of punk that rejects both society's heterosexism and the classism of many LGBTQ subcultures. All of the members of the final lineup of 8 Inch Betsy identified as queer, though the lyrics generally expressed universal sentiments and emotions, rather than specifically queer topics. The influences of riot grrrl and various sounds of the '80s and '90s (grunge, surf-punk, alternative, hardcore) can be heard. This music is another take on what it means not only to reject the prevailing society but to build a new one.

The vocals are no-nonsense without being abrasive — apparently this reflects Galbraith's personality, too. The music is punk without forgoing such things as complexity and technical proficiency. All of the instruments are played well. Each song has a discernible melody and sounds different from the previous one. "True North" combines a thudding bass riff with high pitched guitar chords; "12 Water" is slow and contemplative, with Galbraith's voice almost whispering, "We're both so cold," which is followed by and contrasted with the rapid "Get in the Van." The sound is arresting — unsettling, perhaps, but not unpleasant.

The Mean Days captures the feeling of being at a politically charged punk show. Meghan Galbraith is gone, but the music lives on and her influence remains; the path she forged will always be a little bit clearer. (Baby Robot Records)