‘I wanna feel like nothing’s wrong,’ sings Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro on ‘Complain’, a song that denotes unashamed pessimism – or “being a negative Nancy,” as she called it in our interview with the band last month. In the same interview, we also discussed a mutual fondness for happy melancholy, as she cited the likes of The Beach Boys and Elliott Smith as primary influences and masters of the happy/sad juxtapositions in indie music, a theme that’s as pervasive as it is typically triumphant.
While ‘Complain’ is downbeat in comparison to the woozy buoyancy of the rest of the band’s third album, the best thing about ‘I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone’ is indeed its propensity for blending lyrical dejection with musical optimism, a theme that was prominent on previous albums, but is manifested better than ever here. This album coalesces all the best aspects of everything they’ve ever done, while simultaneously sounding like a relatively mature version of Chastity Belt, making it the most accomplished and realised thing they’ve ever done.
Because of music journalism’s tendency to lazily pigeonhole female bands that remotely share a similar sound, Chastity Belt have often been likened to contemporaries Best Coast. But while Bethany Constantino’s lyrics were often child-like in their simplicity, Shapiro has a meticulous approach to songwriting that’s devoid of clichés and platitudes. Best Coast for adults they are not, though: Chastity Belt reside in their own world, avoiding the subject of love whenever possible. Instead, Shapiro depicts everyday life with self-depreciating astuteness, making the mundane sound interesting, contemplative and often profound.
Make no mistake, however – they are still very much a pop band, relying heavily on hooks and perfect guitar melodies. Of course, pop music often has a hard time of convincing music snobs that it’s a form of art, but getting it right is a deceivingly difficult task. Here, Chastity Belt prove that pop music can have substance.
It’s not without its flaws (while the opening ‘Different Now’ is the sound of the band at their life-affirming best, the dragging likes of ‘It’s Obvious’ could be easily omitted without any real loss), but for the most part, this record feels like a defining moment for the band, via a blend of pop melodies and unfamiliar subject matters that make for a refreshing take on tired indie rock.
Shapiro’s smart, relatable lyrics act as comfort in times of personal crisis, and what’s more, I suspect that this will only be Chastity Belt’s peak until their next album.
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