You know, I'm an idiot sometimes. I saw those recent promo pics of Chastity Belt and went:
"Uh oh, they're one of those 'funny' bands!"
I say that 'cause I'm the guy who used to want to throw my shoe at the radio when They Might Be Giants would come on. And I nearly started a fistfight at an otherwise excellent Robyn Hitchcok show 'cause the old dude next to me kept yelling out "Uncorrected Personality Traits" as if he was that "Freebird" guy.
He was reducing the musician who was singing something beautiful on stage into a joke act. I hated that.
Which is a long way of explaining why I'm so, so late to the party with Chastity Belt. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't judge this band by those admittedly funny promo pics.
Chastity Belt are the real deal. And Time to Go Home, their second album, drops tomorrow on Hardly Art and I urge you to get it immediately.
"I made choices without reason..." sings Julia Sharpiro on opener "Drone", and as she relates the woes of "...just another man trying to teach me something..." the guitar waves ripple out behind her voice and the effect is as punk rock as the loudest Bad Brains record. "Trapped" ramps things up a bit in a similar fashion as the music alternates between a VU-style chug and the big cooing choruses. The guitar recalls stuff like King Sunny Ade and the cut swirls into a propulsive jam.
"Why Try" positively chimes as the players create a delirious racket behind the vocals. The song is one of desperation, presumably given that title, but the overall effect is one of delightful abandon.
The awesomely titled "Cool Slut" is sure to get the band loads of attention. And they deserve it. While the other pundits are busy pouring over these lyrics, I'm not gonna get all heavy on you guys but I will say that this cut reminded me in some weird way of The Smiths, and not least because of the fantastic guitar hooks here. The way Morrissey once sang of that double-decker bus and how you couldn't quite be sure if he was being funny or serious -- or both -- and maybe it doesn't even matter either way -- is sorta the way I heard this one. Done with a straight face, these lyrics would be like a blast of riot grrl rage, but delivered in the service of this Chastity Belt rocker, the lyrics take on more than one shade of meaning.
And that, kids, is when this old crank became a huge fan of Chastity Belt!
"On The Floor" unfurls with early 4AD-styled indie murkiness while "The Thing" rocks in tribute to an awesome John Carpenter flick. "Joke", the first of 2 free Mp3s in this review, is another slice of deceptively casual genius from the four members of Chastity Belt. The song moves beyond the bits of some of the cuts that echo The Raincoats of The Vasellines or Young Marble Giants to result in something more direct. In some odd way, the tune is like an old Built to Spill song pulled together and made concise and poppy (in all the right ways). It would be too easy compare the guitar-work here to something from Vampire Weekend but I won't do that. Those guys annoy the heck out of me and Chastity Belt do not at all.
"Lydia" and "IDC" further explore the complex moods of being young in the 21st century but they're hardly heavy cuts. "IDC" dances between rage and boredom even as the music hits some of the highs of the record behind the lyrics.
Album closer and title track "Time To Go Home" is poised somewhere between Mazzy Star and The Slits until the song turns into a more adventurous jig in spots. "I just wanna have a good time..." Shapiro sings and one can't be sure if the singer of the cut really means that or is questioning that very sentiment. The way the song makes you feel happy and sad all at the same time is just something marvelous and special.
It would be far, far too easy to lump Chastity Belt in with other female-fronted acts like Hinds (Deers) or the equally excellent Colleen Green -- also on Hardly Art, by the way -- but I think a more apt way to approach this record -- especially for us old geezers -- is to think of it as a sort of American equivalent to the first Arctic Monkeys. Sure, there are similarities here in the thematic concerns, and the guitar and drum bits, but it's more the overall effect that makes me think of that comparison.
Time To Go Home is a youthful record that brims with joy even while it contains moments of real doubt and self-introspection. If I was 20 years younger, I'd be picking up a guitar after hearing this one. It's sort of inspiring and not 'cause it'a s feminist record -- though it can be one, certainly -- but because it's a youthful record. Time To Go Home stuns and slays with its seemingly effortless vibe. But it's not a lazy album. It's one that creates a unique mood you're not likely to find in most other contemporary music now.
Chastity Belt -- Julia Shapiro, Gretchen Grimm, Lydia Lund, and Annie Truscott -- make human music of the very best sort. There are so many ways that this kind of thing could go wrong, or become a strident, joyless record. Instead Chastity Belt have a blast, express doubts about chasing that feeling of having a blast, and look inward a bit. Time To Go Home is, in some ways, an audacious record and I reckon that it will only be with the passing of time that more and more people will see it for the masterpiece it is.
Time To Go Home by Chastity Belt is out tomorrow on Hardly Art.
Follow Chastity Belt on their official Facebook page.