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Chastity Belt unlock more than their sound on a fourth album

When Chastity Belt emerged in 2013 with their squiffily titled debut, No Regerts, the Cascadian all-girl foursome quickly became a Pacific Northwest favourite with songs like Seattle Party and Pussy Weed Beer.

Their sardonic acidity was an asset to bolster their catchy songwriting and woozy indie-lite arrangements. Through 2015’s Time To Go Home and even more so on 2017’s excellent I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, the quirky quartet began to turn further inward. The humour was still there but steeped more in self-defeating observation. Sometimes when things feel like they’re going wrong, you need that levity to break it up.

It’s a special thing to feel like you’re growing up alongside a band. If you were a late teen or 20-something who found said act when they first emerged, the outfit’s arc of albums reflects the same highs and lows of trying to find your footing in a world that increasingly doesn’t make sense.

Chastity Belt’s music is cathartic in how it expresses the best, worst, and muddled times. In 2019, their  eponymous fifth album finds the band looking back at the halcyon days of aimless driving along to scratched CDs (Ann’s Jam) to contemplating the pain of the present (Rav-4).

In all, the work feels like the culmination of everything that came before it coupled with a tangible unlocking of the band’s sound, with the introduction of strings on a trio of tracks and keyboards on the heartbreaking Split adding texture to their characteristic fuzzed-out guitar arrangements. Each melody and every drum fill feels intentional, and the group’s shared vocals and light-as-air harmonies seem like a meaningful statement of where they are as a band — and as friends.

With production assistance from Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som), that thickened sonic footprint has never been so enveloping. There’s a tenderness to the soundscape that’s always been there but brought out to the forefront on this release. Faux frontwoman Julia Shapiro’s songwriting has never been so insular; genuine, relatable soul-seeking as she parses through visions of the past and the foggy future.

There may be no other band working that could write a song called Pissed Pants and have it be a meaningful, poignant closer. Through the static feedback and sanguine riffs, Shapiro sings, “You can have everything you’ve always dreamed of, but first you’ve got to get out of your head.”

It feels like a bit of closure for the Chastity Belt we’ve known this far, seeking through meaning in an increasingly god-eat-god world.

I Pray, Olé.

Steve Pafford

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