Harmonious melancholy, matured
Releasing their self-titled, fourth full-length album, Chastity Belt departs from their previous efforts’ aggression, instead of focusing inward on an intimate and introspective collection. An attentive ear won’t fail to recognize lead singer Julia Shapiro’s distinct inflections and the band’s clever societal and musical musings, but Chastity Belt differs from their past work in its more subtle composition. Shoegaze sensibilities, bolstered by rhythmically chiming guitars help to blend vocals and soften sonic edges, nicely complementing the mature, reserved tone.
One steadily picked guitar pattern enmeshes with a second, introducing the album-opener, “Ann’s Jam.” A languid melody recounts a decade-old car ride through wiser eyes. The subdued and gentle lead plays with, and against, backing vocals and other instrumentation in sharp contrast to past dynamics in which Sharpiro’s singing often outshone the group’s other components. This new blend continues with “Elena.” Lamenting about a misguided dedication to a nameless “him,” the vocal stage is equally shared in a call and response conversation. “Measured your self-worth/ by his judgements.” Self-critical reflection dominates the first half of the album with “Rav-4” reiterating similar feelings as Shapiro sings, “The lie I told myself got old.”
“It Takes Time” pivots from the retrospective themes of the previous songs with help from an upward-moving chord progression and a slightly quicker tempo. The lyrics are the most concise on the album, leaving time for a pleasing, if odd, instrumental pairing of distorted guitar and ethereal vocals to close the piece and begin the second half of the set.
On “Apart,” a phased guitar and drum cadence pulls the upbeat tune forward, allowing the harmonies to provide both countermelody and counterpoint to a look inside the conflicting emotions of dying relationship. Chastity Belt matches its lyrical emphasis with careful instrumental interplay on “Half-Hearted,” which begins with gentle guitar chords and is joined by a second guitar part before finally adding the lead riff. It is a three-part lead-in as seamless as it is subtle. The softly sung tune of the verses changes into an uneasy chorus that threatens to boil over with ominous vocalizations and distorted guitar but ultimately returns to the main guitar phrase.
Brooding about a relationship that has become unbearably draining, “Split” lets Annie Truscott’s bass and Gretchen Grimm’s drums signal another distinct verse-to-chorus change, while “Drown” balefully advises to “Believe me, this is a way out.” Heavy subject matter notwithstanding, the band manages to expand their repertoire with a pleasant electric piano outro on the former and acoustic and electric guitar interaction on the latter.
The finale, “Pissed Pants,” jaunts airily towards the best chorus of the selection. Lightly-picked guitar subsides, transitioning into melancholy harmonies that both lyrically and musically mature. A jazzy, post-chorus progression which resolves into distorted, but controlled guitar punctuates Chastity Belt’s separation from the albums that came before it. The band might surprise more than a few fans with a sound far more relaxed and considered when compared to its formerly raucous mood. Listeners might not find what they are looking for on the first screening, but the writing quality and attractive soundscapes should please over time.