Welcome to the era of BFD Music Events. It’s not acceptable for the biggest stars to just release an album any more: you need to do it in a way No One Has Done it Before. You need a fashion show at MSG, or an HBO special, or a Samsung scavenger hunt. You need to praise God, or manufacture gossip scandals, or capture the plight of a whole population–and in the process leave heads rolling and millions of crying emojis in your wake.
It’s exhausting. And sometimes, the more poignant works of art are instead the ones aimed at no one in particular. They’re more intimate; they breathe easier without the weight of dollar signs and corporate or universal-emotional considerations. And they have the tendency to worm their way even deeper into your consciousness than an album that’s actively gunning for your soul.
Such is the case with Pity Sex’s “White Hot Moon,” which arrives today, in a week in which “Lemonade” and “Views,” grab all the headlines, listens and thinkpieces. “White Hot Moon” is a whisper into the void, a tidy shoegaze-y punk album made by four Michigan kids, led by clarion vocals and garbled guitars. At first listen, it sounds like bliss. By fourth listen, it sounds like all-consuming depression. Ben Ratliff wrote that Beach House “is withholding ideas so that you can insert your own. How interesting is the record? Well, how interesting is your life?” Similarly, Pity Sex isn’t trying to sell you on any narrative or persona–except your own.
Pity Sex (great band name, by the way) is driven first and foremost by its mesmerizing guitars. Set on various levels of distortion, they sit on each other like oil on water, creating murky puddles that sound both stagnant and simmering. On “Nothing Rips Through Me,” the shrewd open voicings project tension and anxiety, while their density and low spot in the mix gives the feel of deadweight. They shield and protect the singers’ voices like a canopy.
These singers, Brennan Greaves and Britty Drake, are sometimes inaudible, always affectless, often run through filters, and generally very small. Even when they’re singing to each other, in a way that would suggest romantic duets, there’s a fundamental disconnect; it sounds more like two strangers, “in bed with touchscreen,” dictating into their devices. Depending on your worldview, their vague quietness suggests either two lonely souls finding comfort in each other, or tortured outcasts with a shared burden.
The most moving song of the album is the slowly-building “Plum,” which tells the story of the singer’s parents dying. Drake is not moved at all: her timid voice never wavers. She is not begging you to share her anguish. She is numb, as is often the case after loss. But there is pathos raging just beneath the surface, and she knows that if you understand it, it will come flooding out by itself.
The insularity, self-consciousness, and uniformity of “White Hot Moon” makes it hard to love–until you put yourself all the way inside of the songs so that you’re not even really listening to them anymore. Pity Sex’s message and goals are opaque, but in a way, that’s more empowering than being lined up and told what to do.
Pity Sex arrives in New York in June 10 at the Bowery Ballroom with two kickass tourmate bands: PWR BTTM and Petal.