Chastity Belt Time to Go Home

[Hardly Art; 2015]

Styles: grrrl grunge, slowpunk, Seattle
Others: Deerhunter, Potty Mouth, Girlpool

What’s a band photo have to do with a band? Besides stealing your soul, photos tend to unrealistically codify a moment, and the band photo, ever-cheesy and meme-like, will likely come back to haunt those it captures in its frame. I’ve always thought promotional shots were somewhat useless additions to a band’s pre-album-release self-mythologizing. Just another angle from which PR agencies can sell a record. Chastity Belt, in their controversial crotch-steak-housewives pic, prove me quite wrong: that photo has everything to do with their band, their attitude, their position in contemporary rock music. More recently, their mock high school group photo added another joyous, hilarious aspect to the band’s picture resume. We can’t quite chart the band’s growth through these photos, but we can allow them to add another layer to Chastity Belt’s irreverent but knowing charm. Like contemporaries Girlpool or Potty Mouth, Chastity Belt is a feminist band. They joke (and even began, like many punk bands, as a sort of joke), but they aren’t joking.

Besides the easy and obvious aforementioned comparisons to contemporaries within the surging, thriving feminist indie rock boom of the 2010s, something of latter-day Deerhunter echoes on Time to Go Home, Chastity Belt’s second album — the careful, fragile lead guitar lines plucked out above a churning, moaning din, the way in which one can almost feel singer Julia Shapiro’s words and breaths on one’s ear. She’s so close to the microphone: the band got weirder, queered their punk. Where their debut, No Regerts, was often lighthearted and fully deserving of (and fulfilling, surpassing) its pop-punk designation, Time to Go Home has more in common with its Pacific Northwest grunge and indie rock heritage.

Shapiro, here, is coming into her own as a singer and songwriter. Tracks like “Drone” and “On The Floor” plod, stomp, and stick, wearing her sneering voice like a crown. “Cool Slut” is powerful, empowering in its silly-serious, wiggly way, serving to connect Time to Go Home to its predecessor; it is also the least subtle example of feminist politics on the record, though bits are to be found throughout. That Chastity Belt is working within a discourse but not composing songs using only the language of that discourse is important and adds to the album’s vitality. The album seems most successful when it lets itself spread out and take up space: the longer songs and the slower songs are more effective, generally, than the briefer tracks, but the entire album, excepting “The Thing” (a quick, sharp mid-album refreshment), stays comfortably within the mid-tempo range.

Although not perfect (and perhaps transitional), Time to Go Home is a defining moment not only for Chastity Belt, but also for a style currently seeing a serious revival. It shows that there may be a future yet for the sort of quasi-grunge, 90s aesthetics that, done to death by bro bands, is being reclaimed by groups like Chastity Belt.

Links: Chastity Belt - Hardly Art

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