Like most all-woman rock bands, the Atlanta quartet has had to withstand some incredibly sexist shit being pelted at them since their inception a little over four years ago. They’ve been derided as shit-stirrers instead of actual musicians, while their a-alike male counterparts are praised for their fuck-all abandon. Via scene gossip, they’ve faced ridiculous charges of not actually playing the instruments recorded on their self-titled debut. And, what is probably the worst injustice of all, they continue to eviscerate squalid punk dives– and probably still have day jobs– while all-girl bands nowhere near as fearsome and twice as asinine are allowed to sell out 1000-person venues all over the world, singing about boys, boys, and/or boys. As much as the wider contingent of music critics claim to be open-minded and all-inclusive, you get the feeling that The Coathangers haven’t gotten their proper due because a lot of writers might find them to be, gasp, intimidating. To which The Coathangers themselves would probably reply, “Grow a fucking pair, dude.”
Instead of letting their lingering stasis as cult heroines (even by micro, niche, indie standards) get to them, the band just keeps getting better. Scramble, their 2009 sophomore record, combined menace (“Gettin’ Mad and Pumpin’ Iron”), starry-eyed bliss (“Dreamboat”), and songs about roommates that haven’t quite mastered the art of courteous tip-toeing (“Stomp Stomp Stompin’”) to create a stunner of a record great enough to let Suicide Squeeze off the hook for allowing Goon Moon release a record titled I Got a Brand New Egg Layin’ Machine. As much as Scramble tinkered with the tried-and-true formula of The Coathangers, new album Larceny and Old Lace finds the band further expanding their boundaries while mostly retaining the unsettling creepiness that makes them such a compelling group.
Of course, the album starts off with “Hurricane”– the album’s infectiously demented lead single– which builds an effective bridge between the art- and brain-damaged punk of Scramble and the eclectic-yet-stunningly-cohesive new record, with a great video that features the band running around a crumbling, abandoned psych ward with spring dresses and surgical masks. Alternating between the rasp of drummer Stephanie Luke (who calls herself Rusty Coathanger, probably the best rock stage name since Pat Smear) and the screech of keyboardist Julia Kugel, “Hurricane” is the most punk-rock of love songs. A tribute to the rebels in their lives, the song is two-and-a-half minutes of shrieks, popular satanic numerology, and a chorus that sounds a lot like being on the wrong end of a haunted house of mirrors. As what could be the band’s official calling card, they could do much, much worse.
Despite being the band’s first foray into a professional studio, Larceny and Old Lace is not short on the tuneful abrasion that The Coathangers have joyously applied to their work to date. The driving “Trailer Park Boneyard” features a blistering, thunderous breakdown, while “Call to Nothing” and “Chicken: 30”– the latter featuring a rebel heroine who “knows your name but not what you do” and “knows your pain but not what you’re going through– could have easily been slipped onto Scramble. The eerie “Jaybird” rehashes the classic tale of a bird flying too high, but with its repeated assertion of, “Oh, it’s such a shame” and lament of having to say goodbye, it serves as kind of a subliminal eulogy to fallen garage-punk icon Jay Reatard, with Luke shouting, “There’s a hole where our hearts used to be” during the song’s final verse. The brutally dissonant “Johnny” serves as a fascinating character study, where themes of religion and necrophilia sit in too-close quarters. It’s the type of song that jolts you into place, exploring the darkest recesses of the human mind while sounding exactly as scary as you’d expect a song with a singer psychotically screaming, “She likes them better dead!” to sound.
Just as notable as the bolstering of their punk freakouts, The Coathangers have spread their wings musically on Larceny and Old Lace, while naturally sounding like no band but themselves. Penultimate track “Well Alright” manages the rare feat of combining fist-pumping almost-arena-rock with western saloon piano, while “My Baby”– led by a slinky bass groove– finds Jones cooing, “I kept that blister on my thumb because I know you touched it some,” in a breathy soprano over the band’s sinister take on disco-punk. While the vast majority of guitar music this accessible usually finds the girl waiting by her phone (or her window, Taylor Swift-style) for the boy that likes her, The Coathangers pushes the boy away– exactly as the title suggests, sweetly singing during the middle-eight, “And you tried to be the one / And you tried, but you’re not for me.” “Go Away” signifies one of the band’s biggest stylistic departures, as they fully appropriate frilly pop-rock to completely subvert the genre.
The boldest step forward on Larceny and Old Lace is the electric folk of its stirring closer. The emotionally resonant “Tabbacco Road” features the band at their most heartfelt and melancholic, chronicling an entire relationship– from the first meeting, to the first dance, to the first drink, to the first fight, to the final goodbye– in two-and-a-half sad minutes. As much you’d expect a Coathangers record to end with a bang, it ends like this; not so much as whimper as a kiss on the cheek and a quiet stroll toward the horizon. For all of the claims that The Coathangers are getting by on their ferocity, Larceny and Old Lace proves that, yes, they can hang with the most anarchistic of bands, but also that they not only definitely write their own songs, but the songs that they write are better than those of most any other young band around.