Raw and Well-Done
Deap Vally just get it. Their newest album, Femejism, is a masterful foray into the art of irony, social & self criticism and recorded energy that will appeal to any music listener. The duo (Lindsay Troy and Julie Edwards) hail from San Fernando Valley in Southern California. Although one might compare their musical style to the vocal virtuosity and pop-punk melodiousness of a band like Paramore, Deap Vally cannot be confined to merely one genre. Throughout Femejism, it is easy to hear the influence of punk icons like Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols, as well as that of blues-based bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Ultimately, Femejism is an aesthetically unified album that pushes the limits of Vally’s sound – a commendable sophomore effort from a captivating band.
Deap Vally are known for their punk inspiration. On Femejism, songs like “Julian” and “Gonnawanna” portray their raw and emotive compositional aesthetic. The end of “Julian” offers a prime example of this punk sound. The song starts with a very raw drum beat, which is accompanied by some syncopated guitar shredding. By the song’s end, from almost out of nowhere, Troy finds herself screaming, as surging power chords wail in the background. Deap Vally are not afraid to switch gears and demonstrate their raw emotional ability. “Gonnawanna,” one of the album’s singles, begins with a straight quarter-note bass drum beat, while punk power chords surge in the forefront. It maintains a surfy, ominous vibe, as Troy repeats in true punk fashion: “I’m gonna, do what I wanna.” Her vocal delivery is very syllabic and rhythmic, as if to punch the lyrics into the ear of the listener. It is easy to hear that Deap Vally play with a purpose.
Deap Vally show the breadth of their musical inspiration on this album. Aside from their obvious punk roots, they are also clearly influenced by blues-based genres. Songs like “Little Baby Beauty Queen,” “Teenage Queen” and “Turn It Off” all possess very distinctive blues qualities. “Little Baby Beauty Queen” sounds like something one might hear on a Black Keys album. Troy finds herself singing about someone who is “more than her” in both popularity and looks. The song offers some distinctive blues scale bends. However, perhaps its most characteristic aspect is its disorienting finale. Here, Troy delivers a raw bit of vocals that end with the same blues riff that had driven the song up to that point. “Turn It Off” is highly evocative of Led Zeppelin. Its drums are compressed and in-your face. It is also somewhat slower, allowing for a more nuanced sonic atmosphere, as each instrument is afforded the space to breathe and show its expressive potential. Troy sings, “I get high, secondhand,” and these lyrics certainly fit the mood of the track. On the other hand, Deap Vally seem to depart from the comfort of their Led Zeppelin/Black Keys influence, hearkening back to a Mississippi Delta Blues feel in “Teenage Queen.” “Queen” incorporates a slide solo towards its end to the beat of a very heavy drum, hitting your heart like steel. Deap Vally’s ability to play the blues in the midst of their simultaneous punk efforts is quite impressive and truly shows the breadth of their musical talent.
Aside from its foray into blues, Femejism also incorporates a number of other genres. Songs like “Royal Jelly” and “Post Funk” effectively demonstrate the duo’s ability to play complex rhythms and funky grooves. “Royal Jelly” offers a flanged, distorted, deep bass, with ghostly “oos” and “aahs” wavering the background. Similarly, “Post Funk” starts impressively with a virtuosic, syncopated rhythm. The song also may boast Vally’s highest level of playing on the album, with each player doing what she does best. Even though the song itself claims to be a funk number, it contains many of the other elements that define their sound. It starts with a funky percussion section, before moving into a punk riff, transitioning into a bluesy groove, and finally ending on a bending, abrasive guitar solo.
Femejism boasts an incredibly astute set of lyrics and social observations, which one should expect from an established punk band like Deap Vally. “Smile More” engages in pointed self-critique. The song is an affirmation of womanhood through its deconstruction, as Troy ironically sings that she is “happily unhappy, man.” It just so happens that “Smile More” is also the band’s most single-worthy offering – unsurprisingly, it was one of the album’s pre-release singles. It is not as fast or raw as many of the other songs on the album, but it is introspective and declarative, posing as an anthem for women in punk and in general. One of the album’s other observant songs, “Critic,” starts with a low-level guitar, decorated by a very tinny effect. Troy repeats the phrase, “everyone’s a critic, a cynic.” A third of the way through the track, the song’s texture becomes more complex, with ‘oohs’ panned to the right side. The bass comes in and satisfies the low register, as the strums become “normal mixing.” It is one of their more complex tracks, demonstrating their social astuteness and capacity for the ironic. The album ends with “Heart Is An Animal,” which at first may seem to be a nonsensical title; yet it turns out to be a very poignant metaphor. Throughout Femejism, Deap Vally strive to prove this point: the heart seems to have a mind of its own. Yet it is what allows them to offer such a compelling and musical punk album.