Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out review

slotface

Originally published for The Skinny September 2017 issue.

Album title: Try Not to Freak Out
Artist: Sløtface
Label: Propeller Recordings
Release date: 15 Sep

Heavily influenced by the riot grrrl movement, Sløtface’s lyrics have a pretty obvious feminist slant. All their songs are written from a female perspective and many address issues that affect women, despite frontwoman Haley Shea being the only female in the band.

On album opener Magazine, the band challenge modern-day body image ideals and beauty standards for women, asking ‘what the hell is an ‘it girl’ anyway?’ and reminding us that ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit.’

Not all the songs are political though; many of them revolve around the mundanity of being young and not knowing where your life is going. On Galaxies, Shea sings ‘All we ever seem to talk about is puking our guts out,’ and on Pitted, about being ‘Dressed in black / Bitching on a kitchen counter in the corner with my girls,’ at a party she didn’t even really want to go to.

Sløtface’s songs reach out to a disenfranchised youth, much like the pop-punk bands that dominated the airwaves in the late 90s and early 00s did. Although the band members may be too young to remember that time, they are doing a good job of making those who can nostalgic for it.

Listen to: Magazine, Pitted

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PWR BTTM – Pageant review

PWR BTTM pageant

Originally published for The Skinny May 2017 issue.

★★★★

Album title: Pageant
Artist: PWR BTTM
Label: Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl
Release date: 12 May

Any PWR BTTM fans hoping for more of the same fun, upbeat pop-punk anthems as heard on their debut Ugly Cherries will be surprised by what they hear on Pageant, but fortunately it’s a good surprise.

In a recent interview with The Skinny, PWR BTTM’s Liv Bruce told us, “(Pageant) reflects the difference in who Ben (Hopkins) and I are since we made (Ugly Cherries).” That difference is that they’re a whole lot more grown up and they’ve got the music to prove it.

All the album’s tracks remain under three minutes in true PWR BTTM style, sticking to their punk-rock roots, but there’s more of a sense of self-reflection on Pageant. Where Ugly Cherries felt spontaneous and carefree, Pageant feels more mature and considered.

There are still the thrashing guitar riffs, like on the epic glam-rock opener Silly, and the classically humorous lyrics: “I sweat out seven pounds in water weight / Just asking for your number”, sings Bruce on Answer My Text; but there are more moments of melancholy on Pageant.

Tracks like LOL and Now, Now show a more self-deprecating side to the band, telling tales of identity struggles and battling your inner demons, while Oh, Boy and Wash reminisce about past loves. On the other hand, Sissy and Big Beautiful Day are modern-day queer anthems and two massive fingers up to the haters, showing that the duo are still as feisty as ever.

If Ugly Cherries was PWR BTTM’s fun-loving, footloose and fancy-free effort than Pageant is their moment to be recognised as serious musicians, who have much more to talk about than just wanting a boy to keep the bed warm during numerous different situations. That’s all part of their charm, of course, but second albums are about progression and on Pageant, progress they certainly have.

Listen to: LOL, Sissy

 

QR PWR: PWR BTTM interview

pwr bttm

Originally published for The Skinny April 2017 issue.

PWR BTTM tell us about rediscovering themselves on new album Pageant, being born performers and how Lady Marmalade changed their lives

It’s only been a matter of months since PWR BTTM last graced our shores but, just like their fast-paced music, the New York queer-punk duo are not slowing down.

“Liv and I actually walked into a haunted cave as children and we’re cursed to be touring musicians, so an evil witch will kill us if we don’t do this,” says Ben Hopkins, speaking from their van on the way back to New York, having just completed another round of live shows in the US. Their touring schedule has clearly been quite gruelling, judging by the sound of Hopkins’ voice: “I’m criminally an optimist despite my sore throat.”

It barely feels like any time has passed since the release of PWR BTTM’s debut album Ugly Cherries, a 27-minute long collection of short, sharp and sassy pop-punk tunes about love, heartbreak and fucking shit up at Disneyworld. But the duo refuse to rest on their laurels, quickly returning with the announcement of their second album.

Pageant feels like a second album should: a growth and progression on the first, with a more reflective, looking-from-the-outside-in perspective. “We had to take some time to figure out who we are now because we’ve grown up so much since writing Ugly Cherries. I think this record reflects the difference in who Ben and I are since we made that last one,” says Liv Bruce.

“We’ve been working on it for a really long time,” adds Hopkins. “Not as long as Solange, but a long time.”

The UK release of Ugly Cherries in October 2016 was followed two months later with their maiden jaunt to the UK, by which time it had been out in the US for over a year and work on Pageant was nearly complete. “The last time we were in the UK we were finishing our record via conference, getting masters and mixes back every night, so we were non-stop working,” says Bruce.

This time the band are doing things the other way around, with their live shows preceding the album’s release date, a decision they say was intentional. “It’s just fun to take the doggy on a walk before anyone knows the songs. As a music fan, it’s really exciting to me to get to hear new music live before the band puts it out and to remember songs from the show when you finally hear the record.”

They’re not only looking forward to less after-hours work on their upcoming tour, however; they’re also hoping for some warmer weather. “I remember Ben was furious all the time,” says Bruce. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this cultural difference but I think people in Britain just generally don’t believe in heating the way that Americans do. We would be soundchecking at a venue and everyone working there would be wearing a scarf, hat and gloves and be like, ‘What are you talking about, turning the heat on?’”

Having both studied performance-related subjects in college where they met (Hopkins studied theatre and Bruce studied dance at Bard College in New York), the live show is an intrinsic element of PWR BTTM. “I feel like I don’t really understand our music until we perform it,” says Hopkins. “Just on this last tour, there were a couple of songs that we recorded that I’ve sort of had an idea how to play, then after the live shows I’m like, ‘Oh, this is where the real vibe is.’”

There’s one specific performance Bruce remembers as being “truly life-altering”, that being the iconic rendition of Lady Marmalade by Mýa, Pink, Lil’ Kim and Christina Aguilera, as performed at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards. “I remember downloading the video of that performance on Kazaa after it happened and then watching it all the time and just being like, ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up,’ and here I am. Gotta get that dough, sister.”

Their love of performing seeps through very obviously into their music videos, where the song’s stories are visualised in a very PWR BTTM way. Their video for Pageant’s lead single Big Beautiful Day is a glitter drag fest, which sees the pair at a party anyone would want to be at. Bruce tells us: “That was the first time we had ever done a music video with a stranger but it felt very similar, very collaborative.” Is it more difficult working with a stranger, though? “It just takes more emails.”

For anyone in their early to mid-20s, PWR BTTM’s music is likely to have an element of nostalgia to it, a throwback to the pop-punk bands of their youth. But the band’s influences spread much further out with that genre. “The first time I heard Mykki Blanco, I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is possible,’” says Hopkins.

“I was very much influenced by that music and still am,” Bruce agrees. “The queer hip-hop explosion of the early 2010s.”

You might think that it would be more difficult to be accepted as a queer rapper, given the narrative of mainstream hip-hop’s prominent and oft-discussed issues with homophobia, but Bruce is quick to interject: “I think that the indie rock community can be just as closed off. It happens in ways that might be subtle and not easy to put your finger on, so instead of someone saying, ‘that person is a fag,’ or whatever, they would say, ‘that doesn’t seem very authentic to me,’ or ‘that seems fake,’ or ‘gimmicky,’ but it’s all kind of coded language just getting at the same misunderstanding and almost fear.”

Being an openly queer punk band does come with its controversies. Last year, a group of anti-gay protestors picketed PWR BTTM’s show at Big Sleepy’s in Jackson, Mississippi. Instead of allowing them the satisfaction of causing upset, however, PWR BTTM reacted in the only way PWR BTTM would: with humour. “These protestors at our show said my asshole was going to fall out, and I was like I think I’m a better bottom than that,” the band posted on their Twitter feed. “In a way, I understand them because I want attention too,” says Bruce today, “but we’re better at it and we don’t have to resort to violence and evil to do it.”

No matter what’s thrown their way, however, PWR BTTM just keep bouncing back. It really seems there is nothing that can fuck up their big beautiful day.


Pageant is released on 12 May via Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl
PWR BTTM play The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 11 Apr; CCA, Glasgow, 15 Apr