The band Chastity Belt has always been known for their unflinching honesty. Their first three releases have been filled with endearingly quirky Lo-Fi goodness. The latest release retains Chastity Belt’s trademark allure but takes a more mellow and introspective turn. They slow down their manic approach adding harmonic layers and sonic depth, putting more polish on their output. Their career-long tendency to send up hypocrisy continues as their appreciation of the ironic still abounds. If anything this fourth release is “more them than ever” as they focus on individual expression over band obligation or fan expectations.
Chastity Belt was formed in Walla Walla, Washington in 2010. The four-piece has over the years maintained their original members; Julia Shapiro, vocals, guitar, drums, Lydia Lund, vocals and guitar, Gretchen Grim, drums, vocals and guitar and Ann Truscott on bass. They have been effective missionaries for all that has come out of Washington State’s Lo-Fi movement. Throughout their career they have toured with stablemates Dude York, The Wimps and Posse presenting an engaging take on the world with fearless bravado. All along they have challenged feminine stereotypes and gender labels in a crafty way that gets their message across. From the start, the bandmates has retained their mutual admiration society supporting each member’s outside projects and solo works.
On the latest release, the band looked to satisfying their own goals while allowing the public to tune into their latest thoughts. Chastity Belt along with Melina Duterte, of Jay Som’s fame, co-produced the release. Together they would develop an album that was intricate but not cluttered, nuanced, unhurried and thoughtfully poignant. This was all accomplished by adding layered vocals, violins, cellos, trumpets and keyboards, features not utilized on their prior recordings.
The track Ann’s Jam kicks off proceedings with a lovely resilient guitar and keyboard flourishes. The harmonies abound creating a dreamy environment in which to examine the monotony of superficiality and the small events that illuminate our lives. Conveyed is the idea that raw honesty doesn’t have to beat you over the head to get the message across. Elena has a minimalistic touch with a stream of conscious vocal. The track encourages endurance on life’s journey reminding the listener that “Nothing ever turns out like you think”.
Throughout the release, there are insights that are supported by aching experience. Effort discusses the exhaustion of fighting expectations placed upon women underlined by the repeated refrain of “You could be perfect…”. The song questions how we spend our time. Asking why we put so much work into our façade and not on what should matter inmost life. It Takes Time continues this line of thought with a plea for patience while utilizing a sunlit Shoegaze approach. Apart features an acoustic guitar accompaniment and examines why we are such cowards in expressing our emotional yearnings. Half Hearted features an inner dialogue that examines why we put up with inferior relationships we know will implode. The apt lyric “I counted on someone but I was wrong” illuminates all the regret and time wasted on someone who will never be the “One”.
As the album draws to its close things get slightly more upbeat. Drown continues to centre on an inner dialogue but the tempo changes up for a welcomed change from many of the other slower tempo tracks. The final track Pissed Pants had me expecting a return to Chastity Belt’s take no prisoners Lo-Fi quirk. Instead, the track counters the cringe worthiness of the title providing a track of sonic beauty and evocative truth. It is not until the final moments that the track provides Chastity Belt’s familiar guitar dissonance.
I loved the topics that Chastity Belt selected and their beautiful harmonies raise goosebumps. However, there was a side of me that missed that clever flash of punk goodness. Even a song or two to mixing up the sonic theme would have been enough to satisfy my expectations. I miss that smidgen of punchy aggression on the release. The album suffers ever so slightly from too much of a good thing.
Chastity Belt’s downshifted mellowness can seem a little unrelenting when listening to the album in its entirety. Their decision to go low key left me wishing for a helping of Lo-Fi wallop. But that one missing bit is a quibble more than a criticism. I will always cheer Chastity Belt’s women for running in the face of male-dominated Rock and Roll along with their excellent ability to tap into a deeper female tradition to making music on their own terms.