Album Review: Rid of Me - Traveling

And this would have been a number of years after I first began listening to Polly Jean Harvey—six, or seven years after blind buying Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea simply because of her duet with Thom Yorke; six or seven years after ordering Is This Desire? and To Bring You My Love from Columbia House, when I joined it as a 17 year old; and maybe two or three years after hearing Uh-Huh Her, but not connecting with it at the time of its release—that connection would surprisingly come a little over 15 years later when it was reissued on vinyl, giving the opportunity to appreciate it in ways I was unable to the first time around. 

I never thought to go back to the early days of Harvey’s career—just simply jumping in to the point she was at during my time of discovery, and wading into some, perhaps, places of easier accessibility. It never really occurred to me to go back to the very beginning.

It would seem that, in the days before streaming music with any regularity, I would have encountered the song “Rid of Me,” from the album of the same name, on the radio—more than likely catching just the explosive, unsettling conclusion of the song—the song that ends with snarling guitar chugs, thundering percussion, and Harvey, through gritted teeth, shouting the words, “Don’t you wish you never met her,” followed by the extremely discomforting epilogue where, in a dissonant, hoarse voice that seems inhuman, she bellows, “Lick my legs—I’m on fire. Lick my legs, of desire.”

So, what I am trying to set up here, I think, is that it is very fitting, or appropriate, that the band Rid of Me—brash and volatile, would pull their name from this song of Harvey’s.


There is, subjectively speaking, a difference between “punk” as a style of music, and “punk” as an idea, or an ideal, even, or, like, a feeling of sorts. And there is, of course, a place where those two things meet and converge, but that isn’t always guaranteed.

And as I have spent more and more time with Traveling, the blistering, claustrophobic debut full-length from the Philadelphia-based group Rid of Me, for some reason, and I continue to unpack the idea of punk music with punk as an attitude, or whatever, I cannot help but think about my introduction and slow immersion into the first album from A Place to Bury Strangers.

APTBS were one of the first bands I was very aware of that benefited from the hype generated by a review from Pitchfork. Bestowed with the honor of “Best New Music,” and receiving a respectable 8.4 out of 10, I stop short of saying I forced myself to like A Place to Bury Strangers, but it was an album that took a number of months for me to warm up to, and find my way into. At the time—the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, I eventually did, thought it was an album, and they remained a band, that I was uncertain if I was really “ready” for.

The log line of the Pitchfork review for that self-titled album refers to the sound as “Joy Division meets Ministry,” which is accurate to some extent, I guess. There were myriad influences pulled into those early days of A Place to Bury Strangers—shoegaze, being one of them, as well as new wave, and post-punk. 

I would never call APTBS a “punk” band—not in sound, anyway. I had managed to see the group perform live in early 2010, touring in support of their second album, Exploding Head, and serving as the opening act for The Big Pink; and within A Place to Bury Strangers’ allotted half hour or whatever on stage, it remains one of the most “punk” things I have ever witnessed.

There is a confrontational nature to both “punk” as a genre of music, and “punk” as an attitude, and as A Place to Bury Strangers took the stage, it was very apparent that the group’s frontman, Oliver Ackermann did not give a fuck about you, or what you thought of his band. Performing almost entirely in darkness, save for the very faint lights coming from behind the band from what I presume were projectors, the band—a trio, tore through their set of roughly seven or eight songs, and barely came up for air in between. Ackermann, from what I can remember, did not address the crowd at all; at times, whoever was drumming for the group during this iteration (the APTBS line-up is often a revolving door) could barely keep up with the breakneck speed of some of the songs, and the sheer amount of noise created made the tunes in their setlist a challenge to discern from one to the other.

It’s very possible that the band closed their set with “Ocean,” but what I remember about the end of their set was that, during an extended instrumental build up, Ackermann clumsily took his vocal microphone and the accompanying stand, pulled it up and over his intimidating array of effects pedals, and repositioned the microphone in front of his guitar amp—then, when he was ready, commanded an absolutely screeching, squalling wall of feedback from this set up, bringing the song, and their time on stage, to a cacophonic ending that left those in the crowd who were there to hear The Big Pink play their radio hits live, absolutely dumbfounded. 

The band’s music—especially as their career went on—became less and less visceral in this way, and I am guessing that it is difficult, though not wholly impossible, to capture that kind of aggressive, confrontational, explosive nature in a recording. And I say that it is not impossible because Rid of Me have done just that on Traveling—a band that is deeply rooted in both the antagonistic “punk” sound of its earliest iterations, along with the turbulent, unpredictable “punk” affect. 

If I could describe Traveling in just one word, I would use “ferocious.” There is a nearly untamable fury to this collection of songs—a feeling that is present from the moment the album begins, right through its final moments. The album pulls together six new songs, along with four re-recorded tracks taken from the Summer and Broke Shit Demos EPs the group released in 2020—every note played coated in a sense of menace, and drenched in muddy, cavernous reverb.

Traveling opens, smartly so, with its most infectious and energetic song—“Myself.” There is a tangible sense of immediacy to the way it simmers at first with an unrelenting rhythm tapped out on the hi-hat symbol, then the band lets it boil over and “Myself” detonates. It’s not the most confrontational, though, upon detonation, or even the most brash song of the set—I would go so far as to say it is, however, surprisingly melodic because of the way Rid of Me’s vocalist Itarya Rosenberg controls her voice—letting it soar at times and juxtaposing that with her guttural, larynx shredding shout, along with the enormous, yet distended electric guitar chords, and the fuzzed out, scuzzy bass line that rumbles just underneath it all. 

Throughout the album, Rid of Me doesn’t exactly slow the pacing of Traveling down at any point, but they do play with a sense of tension and release from song to song. It would be difficult to maintain the momentum of “Myself” on every song, so things are turned inward on the slithering and creeping “23.”

And it’s within that kind of an atmosphere where you can focus more on Rosenberg’s lyrics—vague, shadowy, and surprisingly sexually charged, she sings quietly, “I see the headlights striking—I push my titties up,” in “23”’s opening line—thematic elements she continues to use as the song stumbles forward. “I hear the engine turning—I let my legs slide up,” she says in the second verse.

The phrase, “push my titties up,” was surprising the first time I heard it, but it is relatively tame in comparison to the sexually aggressive lyrics that arrive as the album reaches its second half, like on the swirling, sludgy, and borderline psychedelic “Fun,” where as the bass and guitar work together to create hypnotic waves, Rosenberg plays with the range and inflection of her voice, speaking in a lower tone, then letting it rise as she sings, “You’ve seen better days but I don’t want to cheer you up—oh no, I don’t want to blow you.” 

I’ve seen better days,” she continues. “Sometimes desperation fucks me up—oh no, I don’t want to hoe you.”

Later on, the song “Spilling” is perhaps the album’s most antagonistic in terms of its lyricism—“I need a lover that’s dying just a little bit,” Rosenberg screams in the song’s second verse. “Hands so cold with flesh pried open. I need a fuck that will cry when it’s all over with; salty tongue with whimper’s gesture.” But it is also the album’s most antagonistic in terms of its arranging—a breakneck, noisy thrash, whipping the listener around frantically around to its rhythm which seems like it is on the verge of falling apart at any moment, the the group manages to keep it together.


And it is at this point I realized that throughout my music-listening life, there have been a handful of things that I have self-described as not being “ready for,” but still find myself inexplicably drawn to, regardless. A Place to Bury Strangers—at least the disorienting discordance of that first, self-titled album, in the autumn and winter of 2007; or, famously, Tricky’s sophomore album, Pre-Millenium Tension, released over 25 years ago—I bought a copy of it when I was all of 13, in early 1997, after catching the video for “Christiansands” on MTV, and when I put the disc into my CD player, my teenage ears were not prepared for what I was going to hear.

To an extent, now, on the edge of 40, even though it is an album I have, somehow, managed to carry with me through time, I am still uncertain if I would ever say I was “ready” for it—it’s the kind of album that keeps the listener at more than an arm’s length.

There is something dangerous, or unnerving, or unpredictable, about these albums—or, in some cases, the artist themselves, like Sonic Youth.

I have struggled with being “ready” for, or listening in earnest to Sonic Youth for longer than I maybe should—somebody else might have given up after, like, the first or second attempt. Like a number of people, I was introduced to them through the airplay that the video for their single “Bull in The Heather” received during the summer of 1994—and the album the song was pulled from, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, was not something than an 11 year old should have been listening to, but that was not something I knew when I plunked down my allowance in exchange for a copy of the cassette. 

Even at their most concise, and their most accessible, there is something inherently difficult about Sonic Youth that kept me from truly settling into them, despite numerous attempts. 

This is fitting, I suppose, because during my initial listens, one of the very first acts that came to mind when hearing Rid of Me, whether the inspiration, or influence, was intentional or not, was Sonic Youth—“Sonic You with exponentially less masturbatory guitar theatrics,” specifically, is what I wrote down in a note about Traveling as I prepared to analyze it for this piece.

Sonic Youth, perhaps in their earliest days, and at times, maybe at their most experimental or abrasive, were attempting to find the place where punk as a style or genre and a punk as an affect or an attitude converge—and to the extent that they could be, I think they were successful at it, with regards to luring the listener just close enough, but then violently shoving them away. But in even making passing comparisons between Rid of Me, and any Sonic Youth record, is that Rid of Me is entirely more compelling to listen to—the band itself, comprised of Rosenberg on bass, drummer Mike Howard, and guitarists Mike McGinnis and Ruben Polo—play with a frenetic immediacy that, as Traveling continues into its final songs, becomes increasingly terrifying in its sheer intensity. 

And Rosenberg, as a singer, is much more charismatic and energetic to listen to—knowing how and when to control the cadence and power of her voice, shifting effortlessly between singing and screaming as if her life depended on it—often within the same song, as exemplified on“Broke Shit,” “Pit,” and “Dealing.”

I feel like it should be apparent at this point that Traveling is not an every day, or every situation kind of record—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile listen. Even at their loudest, or most ferocious, Rid of Me has the ability to construct extremely memorable songs that, for as caterwauling as they are capable of being, can become stuck in your head. It, like so many things I find myself wondering if I am “ready” for, is dangerous and unpredictable, and can keep you at a distance with the unease it creates, but within all of that, it is a highly energized album, and as I listened—from a person who does not spend much time, if any, listening to hard, aggressive music like this, I found myself thinking that this was a surprisingly fun record from an abundantly fun band. 

 Traveling is out now on Knife Hit.