by Erin Bensinger (@_babybluet)
We were driving South in your parents’ car
Singing aloud to scratched CDs
Feeling meaningful thinking, “this is a start”
This vignette, from the chorus of the opening track “Ann’s Jam,” perfectly encapsulates the sound and the feeling of Chastity Belt’s self-titled fourth LP on Hardly Art. The entire record marks a turning inward, a refocus on the connection and desire for creation that brought the band together in the first place. Masterfully, Chastity Belt takes us there without losing sight of the biting cultural critique and fuck-you-bro attitude of tracks like “Cool Slut” and “Seattle Party.”
“Ann’s Jam” begins with a simple, picked bass melody and slowly builds with layering, complementary guitar riffs atop a steady, consistent drum rhythm. It all comes together as a lush backdrop to the nostalgic contemplation of the lyrics. It has the laid-back, almost improvisational feel of an impromptu living room jam session, which underlines the album’s centering of the band’s friendship above all else.
It’s clear from the start that this is a chapter in which both Chastity Belt and Chastity Belt are a group effort. Julia Shapiro and Gretchen Grimm both contributed vocals, guitar, and drums, Lydia Lund added vocals and guitar, and Annie Truscott solidified the backbone of the record on bass; the whole thing is wrapped up neatly in the dreamy, thoughtful production of Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som. The collaborative nature of the album throws any notion of ego out the window; the band’s four members have composed a piece of art that feels truly exploratory, creative, and pure.
Duterte’s influence is never more present than on the delectably dreamy track “Rav-4,” a slow, reverb-laden piece of sonic poetry about the night that Shapiro realized it was time to take a step back from Chastity Belt and refocus her intentions, in life and in music. It’s a moment laid bare in direct contrast to the one represented in “Ann’s Jam.” Again, the listener is transported to the seat beside Shapiro, this time in a different car and a considerably darker mood:
Driving in her Rav-4
Going to the bar
Lost my mind and much more
But who's keeping score?
“Rav-4” is thick with echoes, vocal harmony, and twinkling guitar riffs that are almost synth-like. It’s a track that completely rejects the notion that the band should stick to a particular sound because it’s what they’re known and loved for. Nine years in, Chastity Belt proves themselves capable and deserving of writing something that sounds different without moving the project entirely in a new direction. Their art is theirs not because it satisfies expectations of what it should be, or fits neatly within the walls of a brand, label, or sound; it is theirs by virtue of it being something Shapiro, Grimm, Lund, and Truscott created together, and nothing more or less than that.
The album’s second-to-last track, “Drown,” is a callback to the “Seattle Sound” the band drew from on their earlier records; the guitar tones are sharper, the chord progression is eerier, and the lyrics are darker than anywhere else on the record. It’s a track about losing yourself, metaphorically or literally, and being told to enjoy it. The quick pace and biting tone of the track make the words “Doesn’t the water feel good on your skin?” feel just as critical as the rhetorical question “Are we having fun?,” posed on “Seattle Party” on the band’s debut album No Regerts.
The album’s success hinges on its open embrace of experimentation, vulnerability, and the creation of art for art’s sake; those are the places where the work shines the brightest, in a perfect blend of form and function. From start to finish, Chastity Belt is both a reclamation of the artistic process and a damn good record.