Le Tigre

Think of everything Britney Spears is and all that she represents. Now flip it inside out. What you're left with is Le Tigre, a punk/electronica outfit of women who are pissed off, whip-smart and funny as hell. If they show off their midriffs (and they just might), keep in mind it's because they want to, not because it will sell a billion albums for the Man.

Made up of Kathleen Hanna, former lead screamer of Bikini Kill, as well as 'zine queen Johanna Fateman and video-maker Sadie Benning, Le Tigre first won notice with its eponymous 1999 debut on Mr. Lady Records. The finished product essentially sounded like three chicks messing around with a sampler and a zoom box in somebody's basement -- in other words, it sounded amazing. With Hanna's glorious, punch-in-the-gut voice laid over '80s old-school electronica and clever hooks, the band charmed reviewers and fans who had a serious longing for the early-'90s riot grrrl past.

But despite the critical acclaim, Le Tigre would probably be the first to admit they shun almost anything that's not a DIY team effort (their Web site makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to the band's upcoming fashion spread in the glossy woman's magazine Jane as part of their new "marketing concept" -- yes, they're kidding). Indeed, the women seem intent on aiming for something deeper than just name recognition and record sales. Call it the Le Tigre Experience. While their songs are often ridiculously catchy, they usually comment on Something Important: feminism, lesbian rights or the frightening agenda of the über-right wing. And on their last stop at Rice University almost two years ago, Hanna added several monologues about police brutality and gender politics in between a slide show and several coordinated dance routines with Fateman and Benning (take that, Britney!).

Their latest release, Feminist Sweepstakes, is still full of queer-positive, pro-lady leanings ("Dyke March 2001" has some wonderful samples, including chants of "We recruit!"). But it doesn't take too many listens to hear that Le Tigre has grown beyond their experimental beginnings. The loops and samples are a touch tidier, and Hanna's voice has been toned down a notch or two. But for a world inundated with the overprocessed caterwauling of teenage girl singers in low-slung rubber pants, this 13-track record is a lot more than some of the freshest, most original stuff out there. It's a saving grace.

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Jennifer Mathieu
Contact: Jennifer Mathieu