September 12, 2013

1010028_590484130972607_1899785750_nB. Michael Payne is casually sipping a yolorita.

Chastity Belt are branding geniuses. They landed on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” and this 2.5 million+ view BuzzFeed listicle all because of an astounding band photo. Which, look at it. The foursome resembles another notorious quartet of Girls except for the more obvious and cringe-inducing imagery front and center. The meaty (eponymous?) chastity belt standing in for every bloody-but-toothsome yonic image ever set to song.

Except, no, not really. If all you judged the band by was their appearance, you’d either be the audience of American Idol or an idiot.

Chastity Belt are four women from Walla Walla, Washington who, on their debut LP No Regerts, write wry, confident songs about getting drunk, hooking up, and being young. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound so great or original. Neither does water, barley, hops, and yeast – until you’ve ended a lifetime of drinking Natural Ice and sipped your first Dogfish Head. It’s all in the execution.

Chastity Belt write funny, catchy rock songs. The choruses are usually just the song titles sung louder. The hooks are the size of ski slopes. Some literature around the ’net suggests their songs contain feminist theory, which might be true. But if you’re still with me, imagine the people in the band photo above singing songs relating to or containing some feminist theory, and then stop thinking about that because the music on No Regerts really bears no resemblance to that mental image.

My favorite lyric on the album:

I’m so drunk.

I just want chips and dip.

Chips and dip.

Nip slip.

My second-favorite:

Where’s everyone we know and love?

This party sucks.

So let’s get fucked up.

There’s also:

This is sex.

This is war.

This is me fucking you on the dance floor.

None of these lyrics would be particularly fun or funny (and they probably don’t jump off the webpage very well) if the music weren’t just perfect. It is. The guitars are bright and perfectly situated in the mix. The rhythm section is tight enough. The overall musical affect is utter competence in the way that Wire was utterly competent. That’s no complaint. Julia Shapiro has a commanding presence that I cannot wait to see live. Her delivery veers from a godlike intonation to standup snark. It’s playful and strikes the right tone for every song.

The image of a chastity belt and an album about getting fucked up and fucking are totally at odds. This is a dialectic. Chastity Belt the band are, not to get too into things, exploding the common Virgin/Whore opposition in popular culture, but they’re doing it with funny jokes and loud guitars. That’s basically my favorite method in the whole wide world for exploding idealogical constructs.

Let’s check the scorecard: raunchy, funny indie punk rock. But the only thing that really counts, according to purists, is Ws. In some cases that means wins, but here it means women. After seeing America lose its damn mind every time a woman expresses her sexuality, it’s easy to just tune out or take a moralistic stance. Chastity Belt’s No Regerts succeeds by out-crassing the bros and out-classing the thinkpieces. It reminds you that music can be sexy and fun and still have something to say.

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