DON’T CALL CHASTITY BELT A RIOT GRRRL BAND
Listen to Chastity Belt while sprawled in a hot bath on a cold night with the window cracked just enough for the smoke from your damp Marlboro Menthol Light to find its way through the dirty screen. The scent—either reminiscent of elderly woman or young love—you can’t decide—will still hang heavy, riding on trapped steam, while this voice reminds you just how lonely you are. No, maybe you weren’t lonely before, but now you can’t imagine experiencing any feeling other than the one pushing its way inside you right at this moment through the small holes at the sides of your head; double-penetration by the impatient, the moody, and the plain fed-up being that is Chastity Belt. Yes, they move as one. No longer Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, and Gretchen Grimm, this amorphous beast throws its head side to side, flinging gobs of otherworldly slobber, whipping you with its matted and unwashed hair that leaves stripes of grease across your cheek and arm—beads of bath water will slip hurriedly around the oil, dirt, and raucousness, for that comfortable warmth you’re soaking in is no match for what this creature emits.
A pivot from their last album, Time to Go Home, and a full spin away from their debut album, No Regerts, Chastity Belt’s newest album, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone has garnered plenty of reviews applauding the band for having “matured” and “progressed.” On the phone with Shapiro, I ask if the reception, though positive, caught them as backhanded, implying that their first two albums were immature. “Yeah,” she laughs. “I mean, saying that is always a little bit condescending, that we’ve ‘matured.’ Half of [our first album] was written when we were in college, so of course we’ve matured. It’s just obvious and not that interesting.”
The new album’s track list is devoid of shock value, which is, in itself, a bit shocking after their last two releases. You won’t find an ode to pussy, weed, and beer on this one. Rather than cementing themselves into a block of limb-flailing, foot-stomping balking at gender stereotypes, they carry their rebelliousness through into their new music, but in a quieter and more introspective way.
Shapiro says that the new songs are “a little bit more intricate and contemplative, if you will, and maybe a little bit mellower.” She talks of her love of sad songs, Elliott Smith, and The Cure, and speaks for the whole band when she says, “We’re all people who appreciate sadder music.”
“There’s something really nice and calming about a song that can really hit you. When I’m listening to music, it’s nice to be able to relate and be like, ‘Oh, other people have felt this way, too.’ And not even lyrically—just the feeling of the songs can do that, too.”
I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone is about depression. It’s about anxiety. It’s about the waves of aftershocks they feel from political meltdowns and from the U.S.’s malfunctioning democracy.
“I don’t ever overtly speak about politics in music, but it definitely affects us,” Shapiro says. “We’re at a point where it’s hard not to wake up feeling very anxious. That definitely has an effect on our songwriting.”
So, their new album isn’t more or less mature; it isn’t progress from their older music, which stands firmly on its own even after years have passed; it’s anchored by a new feeling. While past songs, overtly feminist and aggressively subversive, seem driven by anger and by a party-girl mentality to combat it, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone is driven by sadness—the same sadness Shapiro admires in other music.
At times in a monotone drawl, Shapiro drags her words through mud while Lund, Truscott, and Grimm (lead guitar, bass, and drums, respectively) scoop them up, sometimes with a driving, deceptively buoyant melancholy, and sometimes with shoegazing bedroom-pop effervescence. Together, they tow you along as if in loops around a lazy river in an abandoned water park—at once you feel the overwhelming anxiety of being somewhere you know you shouldn’t be while trying your damnedest to relax and enjoy it—this is the Willy Wonka world we can imagine Shapiro occupying as she wrote these latest lyrics.
Chastity Belt hasn’t abandoned their rawness in the new album. It wanders between self-criticism, disenchantment, and complaining. Yes, lots of complaining. There’s even a song called “Complain.” In it, Shapiro wearily sings, “A couple bros said some shit / I’m choosing to ignore / I’m not okay / I’m not okay / I want to complain.” Hell, now we want to complain, too, and we’re compelled to gripe right along with them.
That’s the strength of this album. Listening to it, you can’t help feeling what they feel.
P.S.— While Chastity Belt is no doubt riotous and its members are female, don’t call them a riot grrrl band. “Whenever someone compares us to Sleater-Kinney or any kind of riot grrrl band, I’m like, ‘I don’t think you actually listened to our music,’ and you’re just saying that because we’re all women,” Shapiro says. “I don’t think we sound like many other bands. At least not out there right now. So, it’s always hard when people ask what we sound like. I never really know what to say. We just started being like, ‘Oh, we sound like early Coldplay.’” Sure, their lyrics have mellowed out, but Chastity Belt won’t be letting go of their unfiltered witticisms and trademark fuck-you bluntness any time soon.
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