Thursday, June 1, 2017

Different Now: My Review Of The Superb New Album From Chastity Belt

The new album from Chastity Belt, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, out tomorrow on Hardly Art, is the sort of release that is gonna beg some serious music journalism somewhere. Given the critical mass that this group has (rightly) achieved, it's inevitable that there will be little "think pieces" on why this album is so important at this point of time in the Trumpian dark ages. All that is necessary, of course, but my job today is simply to sort of guide you through my own enjoyment of this excellent release.

If I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, as you can tell from the title, concerned with serious concepts of change, growth, and escapes from stagnation, it remains, thankfully, a wildly accessible record, and a warm one too. Opener "Different Now" immediately offers up the main theme of this record (change) over the top of a rather spry, mid-tempo melody. The players here -- Julia Shapiro, Gretchen Grimm, Lydia Lund, and Annie Truscott -- create a nearly hypnotic melodic swirl that wraps itself around a listener. As the album progresses, there are certainly louder songs ("This Time Of Night") and ones that seem more direct ("Complain"), but the overall sound remains the one that Chastity Belt mastered on earlier releases, if a shade darker. If the obvious traces of humor in the lyrics are largely gone, they've been replaced by something more complex and richer. As the members of the band work their way through these cuts, there's a sense of progress, and reflection on past mistakes in a few cuts ("Stuck In A Lie", "Stuck"), while others (the excellent "Something Else") hint at the urge to move beyond one's immediate circle, or current rut ("We're all talking about nothing," goes part of the lyrics). The music here on most of the album's stand-out cuts is remarkable, equal parts down-tempo Smiths or Feelies mixed with a trace of Luna, or Galaxie 500, with the overall effect being a striking one. The material has a lightness of touch that simultaneously echoes earlier, more overtly "serious" bands like Sonic Youth (the undulating "It's Obvious"), or even Young Marble Giants ("What The Hell") while retaining a real lightness of touch utterly unlike the tunes of those influential bands. As I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone progresses, the music reaches a mini-peak on the penultimate cut, "Used To Spend", which works up the sort of coiled tension-and-release pattern one hasn't heard so much of since the peak years of Built To Spill, or Sebadoh. The album closes on the more expansive "5am", a rough proto-Velvet Underground rhythm spiraling under hints of Sister-era Sonic Youth hooks which all ends with a burst of feedback that, like the appearance of the teenage Groot at end of the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy sequel, hints at an altogether different kind of pay-off awaiting fans in the next installment of this particular adventure.

I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, clearly, a progression for this band. That that progression should be so easily expressed is what makes this record remarkable. That's another way to say that this isn't a too serious record but one which, like the best, more straight-faced old Pavement tracks, for instance, manages to tackle real ideas of growing up and changing in a way that is rare. I mean, there was some of that going on here before (the down-tempo bits of "Cool Slut", for example), but now Chastity Belt have embraced those moments and crafted something that is serious but not a burden to enjoy, and an album that rewards careful listening even if the musicians perform the tunes with a natural easiness that suggests this is almost second nature to them. Lovely and quietly affecting, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, obviously, one of the best records of 2017; I can't imagine anything else dislodging this from my Top 10 by the time we make it to December. That is, assuming that Trump and his minions don't destroy us all by then.

Out tomorrow on Hardly Art, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone by Chastity Belt is the one release this week you must buy on the format of your choice. Follow Chastity Belt via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Conner Lyons]