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Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love

on March 19, 2014, 12:01am
B
Release Date
March 18, 2014
Label
Captured Tracks
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd

Here’s the thing about being a woman: It’s not like you make the choice between aligning with your oppressors and staking your claim to resistance. There are no neat radio buttons labeled “feminist” and “not feminist” for you to click on. The world does not divide itself into Miley Cyrus and Riot Grrl. In between ideology and passivity, a dense and contradictory psychological tangle constantly tries to orient itself. It often buckles. You can read as much bell hooks as you want, and it still might be hard for you to stop smiling politely when strangers call you “baby.”

Plenty of female songwriters have positioned themselves against the androcentrism that dominates the music business, but few render the deep, inner conflict of being simultaneously female and human as well as Perfect Pussy frontwoman Meredith Graves. There is certainly a place for sex-positive songs about kink in the world — I don’t blame Savages for what they do — but it is so, so refreshing to hear a woman sing the lyric “we make love” followed by “and it doesn’t feel good.” Graves bites out these words on “Work” like she’s coughing up something awful. Earlier on “Driver”, she confesses, “I have a history of surrender.” Her power as a vocalist seems to run on shame.

Perfect Pussy’s debut LP, Say Yes to Love, muscles through just 24 minutes of raw noise. The album scoops out some of the tape hiss that littered the Syracuse band’s earliest material, but manages to sound even dirtier. The better you can hear Graves’ voice, the more she comes through as a complex and fascinating presence. She makes aggressive music with her band, but in spite of their irreverent, genital-focused name, she does not make confident music. This is important: While riot grrl produced confident music as a gesture of political equality to men, Graves shows that there is room to bare desperation and insecurity at the head of a punk band. She sings the way she does not because she wants to prove that she can match a man’s power, but because it is the only way she can wrestle out what’s been squirming in her head.

The thing about Graves’ lyrics is that you don’t get most of them, not on the first try. She cocoons herself in the same kind of void that webs around Alice Glass of Crystal Castles. She buries herself in the squall (and between barbed guitars and banshee synths, there is plenty of squall), then forces herself to fight right back out of it. Every line is delivered with tremendous effort, never punk nonchalance. When she bites out the words “You don’t know shit about me,” you don’t see her flipping two fingers in the air so much as you see her curled in a corner, teeth bared.

Say Yes to Love lets Graves spar with so many of her demons. On the big, throaty “Interference Fits”, a song that echoes Trail of Dead’s 2002 record Source Tags & Codes, Graves lets the album’s core ring loose: “I met my despair and it gained life, and it was amazing, and I almost cried.” She’s not smoothing over the dark parts or transfiguring them into anything positive. She is bringing them to life, and then she is meeting them head-on, bloody fists bared.

On Say Yes to Love‘s last track, “VII”, Perfect Pussy imply that they’re only now finishing their breakthrough EP, last year’s I have lost all desire for feeling, whose song titles were all Roman numerals. But “VII” doesn’t follow in the vein of its kin; instead, it courses along with a slow, eerie pulse, something tugged from krautrock or electronica. Graves drones in layers, some words about desire and transformation, words that can’t be discerned easily or understood once they’re discerned. “Love is just competitions,” she postulates. But she ends with, “It’s still good. We’re still good.” And it’s an answer, I think, to the questions she shouts earlier in the album: “Since when do we say yes to love?” “Can I have everything I want before I die?”

There are bands who approach their feminism casually, who write funny songs about menstruation like it’s no big deal. But making this music is a big deal for Perfect Pussy. Their thorny noise pit might occlude itself to many listeners — it’s not pretty, and it’s not for everyone. Those who recognize themselves in the havoc, though, will find themselves nesting there for a long while to come.

Essential Tracks: “Driver”, “Work”

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