by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
In 2016, Minnesota-based Lunch Duchess released their debut EP, My Mom Says I Have A Rich Inner Life. The first track, “Cry,” pitched the act of crying as an involuntary release. As drummer/vocalist and songwriter Katharine Seggerman puts it, “you can’t always control when a psychic load needs to be let go.” Fast-forward to 2019, and Lunch Duchess’ debut album starts with a change of perspective: “I like crying for fun,” Seggerman sings. The song is a direct sequel to that earlier track (it’s titled “Cry Pt. II”), but it also serves as the underlying theme of the band’s new album, cleverly titled Crying For Fun. The pain and angst that might have underlined Seggerman’s earlier lyrics has been transmuted. That pain has been harvested and repurposed into sharp, witty lyrics, bold sing-along choruses, and clever song structures.
Up until this point, Lunch Duchess have previewed “Cry Pt. II” and “Ride Or Die” as early singles for Crying For Fun. Both of those songs are fantastic, but what if I told you that they aren’t even close to the record’s best songs? That title belongs to “Body,” a catchy, playful anthem to physical independence and bodily integrity. Every lyric could alone serve as a tattoo-worthy quote, but some favorites include “I enjoy getting naked any time I like / I avoid being pregnant because that’s my right / ‘Cos it’s my fucking body” and “My body is pretty dumb / It doesn’t know what’s up / I take two pill and I throw up / My body’s really just that dumb.” The song is a feminist anthem that makes bodily autonomy not just empowering, but fun. In that way, “Body” makes a great pairing with Julia Jacklin’s 2019 single “Body” or Bethlehem Steel’s “Untitled Entitlement” – two other songs with a similar subject matter but wildly different tone and delivery.
Where the vast majority of ‘90s grunge bands honed their sounds by taking cues from Zeppelin (Soundgarden) or Neil Young (Pearl Jam), Lunch Duchess gets there through the Beach Boys. There’s no surf-rock on the record, but Brian Wilson’s careful ear for composition and arrangement pervades Crying For Fun. While it’s carefully arranged with harmonies, countermelodies, and complex transitions, the first thing that will catch your ear is the album’s energy and bright melodies. That energy, and those songs’ melodies, make good on Seggerman’s opening promise to turning melancholy subject matter into something fun, into something beautiful. Many of the moving parts of Crying For Fun would come across ornate if they weren’t fused with such liveliness (and loudness). “Creepin’,“ a song at the heart of the album, illustrates this as Sam Frederick’s electric guitar provides both the rhythm and the countermelody to Seggerman’s vocals. Matthew Sandstedt’s bass is often a moving target, along with Frederick’s guitar (“Body,” “Better”), and Nicky Steve’s keys provides the foundation for the album’s best moments (“Body,” “Ride Or Die”). Seggerman’s work behind the drum kit is just as important, not just keeping the band’s multi-faceted songs on rails, but navigating them through tricky tempo shifts and transitions (“Chicago” and “Creepin’” are favorites in that regard).
All of this is to say that Lunch Duchess’s self-description as “Baroque-grunge” is a perfect characterization, putting Crying For Fun alongside contemporary releases by Car Seat Headrest, Renata Zeiguer, and U.S. Girls. Lunch Duchess’ debut is not only one of the year’s most clever albums, but it’s one of 2019’s best.