It will barely get into the 40s in D.C., on the final weekend in March. This was where things stood in Golden Gate Park a week ago. Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph.
If Sleater-Kinney had younger sisters who formed a band, they wouldn’t be Chastity Belt. Oh sure, on the Seattle quartet’s excellent first album, No Regerts,there are moments when the music bounces with the same trampoline dynamics as their forebears’, and even on the amazing Time To Go Home, out this past week, you can hear the occasional echo of their Pacific Northwest sisters. But Chastity Belt deserves to be taken seriously, and on their own.
The first strummed chords of “Drone,” which opens the new one, make you think you’re about to be immersed in a Galaxie 500 album, and like Dean Wareham, clearly Julia Shapiro, who writes and sings and plays guitar, is an admirer of the way Joy Division/New Order constructed songs: several begin with a lead baseline upon which gorgeous chords are neatly layered while an intricate lead guitar soon picks its way through the melody. On their second album, they may still have songs entitled “Cool Slut,” which at least is a topical step up from songs entitled “Pussy Weed Beer,” and “Nip Slip.” But what marks Chastity Belt as a band that is going to take us all on a ride through third, fourth, and fifth albums in which their grasp will stay in tandem with their ambitious reach is how relaxed and confident they are as musicians, the drums always hitting the beat at just the last moment, Shapiro’s contralto refusing to be rushed.
In publicity pictures, they play up the concept of nerdy post-teenagers, but Chastity Belt has a mature sound, minor chords underlying surprising melodic depth. While occasionally one could hope for an alternative to Shapiro’s voice, which maintains a constant pitch across two album’s worth of songs, the interplay between the guitars will brighten the smile of anyone who has ever loved Luna, or Real Estate.
Just listen to the title track, which contains all the goodies these young women put on display. Some great bands begin so strong you are utterly beguiled even as — while devouring those first great records — you despair of what they might come out with when the novelty wears off. With Chastity Belt, having produced such a brilliant sophomore outing in Time To Go Home, we can only count the days ’til the next one comes out.
Listening to Courtney Barnett’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, is like running into an old and amusing friend who greets you mid-conversation with some anecdote that soon has you in stitches. For a 27-year old who emerged from the Antipodes in 2013 and has previously released only The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, we certainly know a lot about her: that she has allergies, tries hard to alleviate her parents’ concerns, worries about the little expenses, can be seduced by someone singing Triffids songs. One album and a pair of EPs in, she’s an old friend.
Her music’s familiar too. The playing on The Double EP brought to mind that first Joe Jackson album, or This Year’s Model: powerhouse, whip-smart power pop straight from the garage. With what the Germans call sprechgesang — spoken singing — she’s not so much a singer as a loquacious poet who puts her words, and her facility for rapid-fire delivering of perfect couplets, to real rock’n’roll. She is beguiling, this year’s model indeed.
Her choruses have the radio-ready symmetry of early Sheryl Crowe, and we don’t mean that as putdown. Maybe early Liz Phair places her more precisely, though that’s unfair to both: Barnett is not the product of Oberlin and upper-middle class neuroses. She’s an earthy, unaffected observer who’s writing is so compelling, and songs so strong, we can listen to her sprechgesang ’til the wallabies come home.
The harmonies of her choruses is one of the reasons why “Avant Gardener” — which tells the tale of how cleaning up the backyard got her sent to the hospital in the back on an ambulance — could have caught such 2014 momentum. Maybe the best way of thinking about her new album — the best way of sitting and thinking about Sitting And Thinking — is to compare the songwriting to the best of the Stones’ Emotional Rescue: small songs, few particularly profound, but fun and infectious. Her music is informed by punk, occasionally floating on Farfisa, mastered so it lurks a nanometer behind the rubber cover of an ear bud. Courtney Barnett’s songs are funny and gorgeous and as focused on what’s just happened to her as a Karl Ove Knausgaard “novel.” Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit propels a talent onto stages near you soon, and in your playlist for life.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled coverage of Ty Segall, White Fence, and Thee Oh Sees with a brief report on how we killed the time, hanging heavily upon us, until Tuesday, when both Courtney Barnett’s first album and the second rec by Chastity Belt at long last can be heard. First we went to the excellent Exposed DC show at the Capital Fringe HQ (1358 Florida Avenue, NE), where an amazing bunch of pics by a great group of photographers (ok, we’re one of them) have their images hanging through the weekend. Then we went to Hill Country Barbecue, and upon our feasting began hearing something far more savory on the bandstand below floors. (Who knew there was even a stage there? We usually just come for the brisket.)
Great Peacock is a band out of Nashville on their first U.S. tour. Just as citizens of Daytona know how to floor it, and natives of St. Moritz know how to schuss, bands from Nashville seems to know to how to play, if you know what I mean, and these guys do in spades. Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd harmonize like they’re on a long-lost Jayhawks album, the rhythm section kicks like we’re on Copperhead Road, and guitarist Clay Houle works his pedals and sustains his notes like the spirit of Phil Wandscher is in the house. As the references to those West Coast (and Aussie) garage cum punk’n’psych combos attest, we tend to grok bands that ply different waters. But we’ve enough respect for the Austin-Nashville axis to attest that these guys are fabulous songwriters, first-rate musicians, and going far.