Review: Say Yes to Perfect Pussy

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opinion by SAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint >

I don’t know about you, but for me there’s sometimes just no defense. Some music sounds like the direct molten extract of the soul…or something. There’s always so much to be said about production and composition and execution and context, but it doesn’t always feel like it matters. Last year Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety and Deafheaven’s Sunbather did a mean one-two on my view of the world and my ability to function in it, but trying to quantify that effect for you, the curious listener/reader, in terms of technicalities like “crescendo” and generalities like “vision” and “audacity” seems – not false, but inadequate. I did my best anyway, because it’s my job to tell you what this music is supposedly doing and how well it accomplishes that, etc., but I confess to you now that there’s only so much I can tell you (below, I’ll try) before I hit a wall. You can run a web search for “Perfect Pussy,” but most of the results won’t be for the Syracuse-based punk quintet. Pussy Riot comment that the word “Riot” is the part of their band name that gets them into trouble in their increasingly terrifying homeland, yet “in America, they seem much more afraid of the other word.” Ah, us repressed Americans and the pages upon pages of search results we can’t look at on our office computers. With Perfect Pussy, forget “Pussy”; they knew what they were doing when they paired it with, you know, that other word.

It’s strange to think a work so brief will be a part of my life for so long.

Someone gave this band a record deal with a well-known indie (Captured Tracks FTW). Bless that person. Last year’s I have lost all desire for feeling was a four-song, honest-to-god cassette tape that went digital via Bandcamp but miraculously never leaked – good for the band’s finances, bad for hype and exposure in 2014. Lupita Nyong’o just won a richly deserved Academy Award for her debut film performance in Steve McQueen’s galvanizing 12 Years A Slave; Perfect Pussy kicked up a shitstorm of buzz with a fucking cassette. Sometimes these things have a way of working out. Maybe it’s just that the best art finds a way to get where it needs to go, making a travesty of traditional industry avenues in the process if necessary. Perfect Pussy have a band name that’s hard to market and they make brutal punk rock that’s an equally hard sell to anyone not acquainted with the pleasures of a good basement show. But the cassette found a wider audience, an influential one at that, on its own strengths, and I’m so happy it did. I mean, when someone with the power to help this band make a living out of its music heard I have lost all desire for feeling, what were they going to do? Not offer them a contract? Please.

Say Yes To Love is twenty-three minutes long; strange to think a work so brief will be a part of my life for so long. There is no preamble unless you count eight seconds of static: once “Driver” puts the light to the touch paper, you’re either out for the count or you’re already hooked for the long haul. It’s a bracing two minutes of screeching, runaway rock music that grinds to a cacophonous pileup, with Meredith Graves breathing fire from start to finish. The mix on this record is a little cleaner than on I have lost all desire for feeling, but that’s not saying much; Graves, on the other hand, says a whole lot that I can’t make out. She says, “You can’t just take your own life”; she says, “I’ll tell you, it never gets better”; she says, “A fucking river to some other world…he dragged me, I have a history of surrender”; she says, definitively, “You don’t know shit about me.” She talks someone off the ledge without sounding all that optimistic, shrieks about imagination and choices and something about how there are “many paths.” There’s a lot going on in “Driver,” and it’s just the first two minutes of Say Yes To Love. This is music that operates at full force at all times. Guitarist Ray McAndrew, keyboardist Shaun Sutkus, bassist Greg Ambler, and drummer Garrett Koloski form a merciless, airtight unit submerged deep in a bed of feedback that bludgeons the listener first into submission and then, impressively, past pain into bliss. Say Yes To Love rocks hard as fuck but by the time I hit the amber-glowing third track “Big Stars” for the first time, I was in a place of ecstatic calm. “I am full of light, I am filled with joy, I am full of peace. I had this dream that I forgave my enemies,” she sang on “I,” from I have lost all desire for feeling. It’s just a dream, the enemies are real, and it’s that knife-edge balance between inner serenity and outward violence this band strikes and holds for the duration of the album.

What makes Meredith Graves extraordinary is that even when she is not comprehensible, she is utterly believable.

In the midst of it all, Graves — formerly of the also-excellent Syracuse trio Shoppers (pick up their LP Silver Year when you’ve played out Say Yes To Love) — steals the show even though she’s mostly impossible to decipher; “I want to fuck myself and I want to eat myself” is still all I can get out of “Dig” after all these listens. Forthright in interviews about her debt to critical theorists like Barthes, her interest in contemporary art, and her investment in staying on the right side (that is, the vanguard) of cultural politics, there’s clearly a lot of meaning in her words, but what makes Graves extraordinary is that even when she’s not comprehensible, she’s utterly believable. If you can’t quite understand her, you can somehow still understand her – how could you not, when she hollers with such pure force and passion? Her pipes are as raw and powerful as her peer Mish Way (of Vancouver punks White Lung), but although Graves seethes with as much rage as Way at times, her perspective puts me more in mind of Marnie Stern, converting the toughest shit life can put a person through into strength and positivity because what the hell else are you going to do with it? Graves at least dreams of forgiving her enemies, and that beautiful truth bleeds through the distortion of the music and the pain of its circumstances. Despite the sheer quantity of words in these songs, Say Yes To Love hits on a level slightly beneath the relatively specific one afforded by language. But it hits there hard, all at once, triumphantly. It hits with precision and energy. It hits with, I don’t know, love? That’s not a common thing in punk, but it’s also not a white flag. “When did we all decide to give up? Since when do we say yes to love?” Graves roars at the heart-stopping climax of the band’s best song to date, the radiant “Interference Fits.” The song’s about rejecting wedding dresses, married life, and, oh god, children; “He makes me sick, he makes the water undrinkable,” Graves spits. She won’t settle; her love is real and it’s radical.

“Interference Fits” fades out with drifting white noise, a trick the band uses again for the segue from “Advance Upon The Real” into the composed, kraut-y groove of closer “VII” – they know we need to catch our collective breath. Hell, they probably need the break, too. Where do these people get the energy to do this for twenty-three minutes? Even they don’t seem to know: on a non-album live recording of “Bells,” Graves banters, “This is the longest set we’ve ever played. If I die, you guys can divvy up my shit.” But when I hear that, I just think back to the brilliant final lyric of “Driver”: “I want everything I want before I die!” I guess she understandably just wants to make it to the end of the set before she goes. The stakes of this music are so high – dizzyingly high, perilously so. Life-or-death high. Perfect Pussy are so good, it ought to embarrass most of their peers. Feeling is the most difficult thing there is, so difficult the band lost all desire for it, but losing the desire to feel isn’t the same as actually going numb. Haven’t you listened to what I’ve been telling you? Haven’t you listened to Perfect Pussy? Going numb – not a chance of that.  A

Review: <i>Say Yes</i> to Perfect Pussy

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