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Righting the Wrongs 

Ms. Led make their latest album both personal and political

Ms. Led plays the kind of rock music that punches, pops and proves that the political can get personal.

Every song is charged with two kinds of hooks--one melodic, one thematic--and the Seattle-based band makes damn sure that you're listening and paying attention. Ms. Led's songs resonate with the immediacy and timelessness that all good rally cries need.

When guitarist, singer and songwriter Lesli Wood sings, "I wanna hear the people sing, I wanna hear the people sing, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah / I wanna hear the people say, I wanna hear the people say no more, no more" on "New Agenda," off of the band's upcoming Shake Yourself Awake (Fish the Cat), Ms. Led's place among protest singers is loud and clear.

"We want to incite, inspire and motivate," said Wood. "We have to do something now. We can't be so complacent."

In the buildup to the 2004 presidential election, many musicians were writing songs about the way of the world, but in the end, nothing really changed. "A lot of bands were rallying together," remembered Wood. "But that didn't work; people got dismayed. The hope is that this time, people will start to get rejuvenated."

Shake Yourself Awake is Ms. Led's anti-complacency anthem, their plea for rejuvenation. But with Shake Yourself Awake, the band's third full-length, the protesting has more to do with Wood's personal feelings about the government and its increasingly anti-gay stance, and the songs run the gamut from riot-grrrl rowdy to '60s-pop sweet. They may not be as direct as the songs on 2004's These Things We Say, but by making it all personal, Shake Yourself Awake is all the more powerful.

"It's definitely very clear, very open--I talk about my girlfriend a lot," said Wood. "The whole anti-gay movement and how strong that was and what that did to people was so oppressive--that there could be a wide movement based on hate is just so oppressive to me as a person."

The personal and the political, Wood pointed out, is "all-inclusive." When the state says you can't live the life you want to live, when the government's decisions have an immediate and devastating effect on your day-to-day existence, then it's all you can do to grab a guitar and scream like hell.

And scream like hell Ms. Led does. On "Because Light Is a Woman," Wood channels all of that anger into a metal-style riff that grates and builds into wails courtesy of guitarist Peg Wood. "I am so tired of being told what I can and can't do," said Lesli Wood about the writing of that song. "Everywhere I was looking, it was some other restriction. It's so over-the-top angry--the song came out really fast. It's completely me just screaming."

But when Wood is "just screaming," it's more complex and melodic than you might immediately think. By the time Wood's yelling, "It's getting underneath your skin and this time, yeah, it's for real, man," on "Because Light Is a Woman," the energy is so palpable that it makes the speakers buzz. On "Have It All," Wood's breathy voice becomes spitfire. When she cries, "Have to, want to, give you everything, everything," on "Waiting Is Overrated," the anticipation is audible.

Even when Wood seems to just be singing about desire, a second look can reveal other interpretations. For example, the opening line of the slow and gorgeous "Fools" resonates with possibilities: "Let's just say it's not the year I had in mind." It's not the year--or the past seven years, for that matter--that anyone had in mind.

"We have a responsibility to do something productive with our voice," said Wood, and Shake Yourself Awake, even in its most personal moments, is still Ms. Led revealing their queer, feminist and politically conscious selves. Shake Yourself Awake reiterates that sometimes the best way to get a big point across is to make it personal.

More by Annie Holub

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