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7 YEAR BITCH (Buy CDs by this artist)
7 Year Bitch EP10 (C/Z) 1992
Sick 'Em (C/Z) 1992
¡Viva Zapata! (C/Z) 1994
Gato Negro (Atlantic) 1996

The release of 7 Year Bitch's debut coincided both with the Seattle grunge frenzy and with one of the media's periodic women-in-rock fixations. Even so, the band's spartan punk gave voice — with remarkable force and poise — to a complicated agenda all its own. Taking sonic inspiration from the Runaways (and, by extension, Joan Jett), the quartet wrote songs of unabashed desire like "In Lust You Trust" and gave voice to the blunt feminism of "Dead Men Don't Rape." Along with the Gits, 7YB had been part of the Rathouse collective, which made instruments and recording facilities available. Released after the death of guitarist Stefanie Sargent by heroin misadventure, Sick 'Em — a complete collection of the band's singles, compilation tracks and the contents of the eponymous six-song 10-inch picture disc — is a fairly primitive and monochromatic burst of punk rage. Male musicians groused that the band's comparatively rudimentary grasp of their instruments was being ignored by critics simply because they were girls. Not quite. Even at her most tentative, vocalist Selene Vigil already had real star quality on stage; bassist Elizabeth Davis and drummer Valerie Agnew may not have been especially adroit, but they got the job done. Taken in small doses, the primitive songs are quite powerful.

Named not for the Mexican revolutionary but for Mia Zapata, the murdered lead singer of the Gits, ¡Viva Zapata! marks the recorded arrival of Roisin Dunne on guitar. Produced by the ubiquitous Jack Endino, the album is cleaner and more polished than its predecessor. It is also a much darker — though less angry — album. Songs range from "M.I.A." and "Rock a Bye" (written to departed friends) to a cover of Jim Carroll's "It's Too Late," and the quieter post-lust "Damn Good and Well" (with the refrain "don't let your emotions get in the way of a really good time"). "Icy Blue," the best song of the set, neatly merges the band's personal and political impulses.

7 Year Bitch then found its way to the majors, though there was predictable friction about how much their sound should change for Gato Negro. In the end, co-producer (with the band) Billy Anderson played it straight down the middle, resulting in the group's most varied, accomplished and coherent outing. Instrumental competence is no longer open to question, and Vigil's vocals don't need brute force to convey menace. With a nifty occasional resemblance to the knotted power of Rollins Band, great songs like "24,900 Miles per Hour" and "Miss Understood" also make it plain the band's personal and political personae were not weakened in the process.

The group disbanded in 1997.

[Grant Alden]