Review Summary: DEAD BITCHES RECOGNISE EACH OTHER
Oh boy, isn’t this an album for our times…
What Black Dresses do on THANK YOU
is to take every cliché of millennial angst and self-hatred and to sandwich them in between as many layers of distortion, hostile beats and raw vocal technique as are on offer. THANK YOU
sets out to sound like a cathartic mess and is hard to fault as such. In many ways, Black Dresses’ attempt to project their various articulations of “I hate myself and everything is so fucked up” is very successful. This is a deeply ugly album full of as much distortion and tastefulness as the duo’s gutter lyricism evokes, and the result is unambiguous in its twisted scope. At points this is quite powerful - the verse mantra of DOGSHIT
and moments of album highlight DEATH/BAD GIRL
definitely got through to me.
Unfortunately, there is a pretty major obstacle between the album’s projection of tortured catharsis and the actual stimulation of a similar reaction on behalf of most sane listeners: it's tasteless to the point of parody and predominantly unlistenable. The sense of pain and aggression, the wet-toned distortion, and the ferocious vocal performances are all strong tools that Black Dresses are clearly enthusiastic to deploy, but they do so without an ounce of refinement or innovation. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a blunt instrument or craftfully unpolished, but this album comes across with all the nuance of a freight train hitting a paralysed deer at full speed, and the results are unforgiving and unappealing.
At times this honestly feels like listening to an uncalled for adaptation of My Immortal (you know the one) in which the protagonist has replaced her obsession for all things My Chemical Romance with an unlikely and unfortunate combination of early Mitski at her most unpolished and performative (think Drunk Walk Home
) with the digitalised irreverence of Crystal Castles. Sounds crude enough on paper but it’s nothing compared to the full experience, not helped by the fact that the music is incredibly one-tone, rarely a good thing for an album this crass and drawn-out. To begin with, at least, it sounds at least somewhat novel and engaging albeit grotesquely so, but by the time WASTEISOLATION
’s declaration that “Every day i just cut myself open/every day i destroy myself” came around, the realisation that literally nothing had changed
since the opening tracks hit me at about the same time as the realisation that this nightmare was not, in fact, a nightmare and I could not elect to wake up and make it disappear.
A side-effect of this mess is that if there’s one thing more challenging than making it through a start-to-finish spin of this album once the general gist is apparent, it’s doing so while taking the music entirely seriously. I feel slightly guilty, but I cannot take THANK YOU
seriously. This is not an artful series of songs, it’s a collection of post-ironic memes that exemplify the sour end of identity politics’ fusion of the personal and political: once the personal is given a political (aka public and forcefully directed) platform, it risks sinking into the same impression of empty gestures that plagued the political to begin with. It’s not that the personal becomes impersonal, but in giving itself objective weight it becomes much easier to dismiss. This isn’t necessarily a problem; personal utterances often have enough colour, character and sympathetic elements to mitigate or avoid this, but these qualities are unfortunately lost on Black Dresses.
This is a shame because, contrary to what the tone of this review might imply, I have a strong fondness for crass heart-on-sleeve distortions of pop that make no pretence at elegance. It’s important that the ugly reality outlined her be represented in sound, but it’s not like Black Dresses are without worthwhile touchstones for what they are reaching for. Want to compel the world with brutal lyrical force？ Work in just a little craft and personality to the Twitter butchery that carries 90% of these songs. Want to embrace pop culture in a subversive way that conveys a dark psychological profile overtly？ Sign up to menhera summer camp. Or go all the way back to Lana del Rey, for crying out loud. Want to press on with the screams-of-despair Alice Glass worship that defines this album？ A little exploration into dynamic variation, track sequencing and atmospheric focus never hurt anyone (and certainly did Glass a lot of favours back in the day). As it is, the album’s sentiments manage to be even less subtle than yesteryear’s scenecore and are expressed aptly yet irredeemably unattractively. Dip in for a quick fix and then avoid like the plague.