Let’s face it: punk isn’t known for its subtlety. So why not call the new album from the Julie Ruin, the band fronted by Kathleen Hanna, Hit Reset? The scorching performer has consistently taken charge of her own iconography ever since the days she and her band Bikini Kill punched back at grungy rock boy self-importance in the early nineteen-nineties, defining the fleeting but forceful riot grrrl movement in the process. Following an extended layoff from performing, necessitated by a humbling bout with Lyme disease, Hanna returned to the stage just last year. Officially the second full-length album from the Julie Ruin (Hanna previously used a slightly modified version version of the name for a solo effort), Hit Reset is clearly a new beginning. The album title should convey exactly that message.
But it’s more complicated than that. The title cut and opening track is indeed about survival and coming through the other end of an endurance test as a person who was not cowed by circumstance (it’s possible there’s no human currently given access to a microphone who is more convincing than Hanna in delivering a lyric like “At least I made it out at fucking all”), though it reaches back deeper into the past. While Hanna is uniquely forthright, “Hit Reset” is considered the first time she’s used her music to address childhood abuse suffered at the hands of her father. As might be expected, the lyrics are brutally tough: “Slept with the lights on on the floor/ Behind a chair that blocked the door/ Watching from bedroom to plate/ Stability just words of hate.” The title might imply revival. To hit reset also requires erasure, which means there’s something that merits being struck from being.
Across the album, Hanna repeatedly demonstrates the value and uniqueness of her voice, just how much is missing from the music atmosphere when she’s not contributing to it. Other examples of raw personal revelation are more glancing, but her talent for withering social commentary remains fully intact. “Mr. So and So” takes aim at hypocritical male fans who still engage in diminishing, condescending nonsense under cover of their proud enlightenment (“I’ll show your autograph/ To my women’s studies class”), and “Hello Trust No One” percolates with sharp comic details (“Cause I can play electric guitar/ While shaving my legs in a moving car”). She’s hardly infallible on this front, though, as evidenced by the way the painfully dopey repeatedly chorus line “Start a Kickstarter for your heart” all but sinks the otherwise buoyant “Planet You.”
As a vocalist, Hanna can still unleash a snarl that can make sturdy paper curl at the edges, and there’s plenty of opportunities for that. One of the real joys of the record, though, is hearing the modulations in her delivery as she careens around different styles, whether the racing agitation of “Be Nice” or the tender album closer “Calverton.” It demonstrates a certain level of maturity, showing what punks can do when they persevere and figure out precisely when to replace force with musicianship. Hanna has actually been exhibiting that level of creative evolution for a while, no matter how readily (and, it’s worth adding, appreciatively) most still categorize her by her the work of her formative self. The title Hit Reset suggests reverting and retrenching. That’t not really Hanna’s style. She’s long been committed to moving forward.