Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Big Stars

Pitchfork Festival Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review)

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It’s only fitting that the run of festival coverage ends with Perfect Pussy, a band that’s earned more words from this site than any other. They’ve been a part of the site since it’s very beginnings (vocalist Meredith Graves, now firmly positioned as this site’s patron saint, was one of the very first to know that it even existed). They’re one of the only bands that inspired me to break a narrative rule in order to use first-person by virtue of being so endearingly sincere about issues that are important to myself and to this site. I have lost desire for all feeling and Say Yes to Love earned two of the strongest reviews that this site’s ever given and their showstopping NXNE performance prompted the most personal thing I’ve ever written for any outlet. I have seen this band’s ascension and felt confident in my position to ally myself with them, even in the face of a staggering amount of backlash. Over the past 7 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to seen them play 8 sets (and in everything from a halfpipe in a bike shop to a fairly extravagant ballroom) and fully intend on raising that number at the next available opportunity. Of those 8 appearances, none felt as important as their showcase on Day 3 of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

I’d spent a large portion of the festival, and the moments leading up to their set, with a nerve-wracked Graves and watching her steady transformation throughout their set was nothing short of inspiring. All of her fears seemed to be coming to a head before their set even started when the sound crew ran into a technical issue with her vocal amp. This prompted a brief delay as a visibly distressed Graves did everything she could to attempt to assist them in resolving the issue as the rest of the band quietly set up around her. It was a matter of minutes before the issue was resolved and the band was allowed to breathe a collected sigh of relief. They took a minute (maybe less) to collect themselves sidestage before walking back out and picking up their instruments in front of a crowd of roughly 3,000 people, all of which anxious to have their opinions dissuaded or reaffirmed.

What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary: as the band tore through song after song with an indescribable amount of passion and meaning, the sound proved to be perfect. Graves was audible, no instrument overpowered another, and each member gave the performances of their lives. I’ve never seen Garrett Koloski, easily one of the most underrated and overlooked drummers out there, hit his drums with more fierceness or look more determined. Synth and noise mastermind Shaun Sutkus seemed like he was completely disconnected from everything but hitting every nuanced motion with an uncanny precision while occasionally being driven by the music into frantic, spastic movements. Bassist Greg Ambler ran into no problems with his cab, head, or levels and took the opportunity to thrash around without consequence, pummeling his bass to the point of abuse without missing a note. Guitarist Ray McAndrew transformed into a mode that bordered the animialistic, growing increasingly intense as the set’s momentum picked up before it’s final breaking point at the very end.

As for Graves… there are no words that can do justice to just how commanding of a performer she is. It’s an intrinsic quality that’s completely intangible and it was one of the things that made me fall for this band in the first place; her face is usually contorted in a manner that expresses the meanings she’s trying to convey because she can’t help it- she feels this music so completely that it seems to pour out through every fiber of her being. As a performer, it’s tough to tell if she animated the songs or the songs animate her, and watching her use her conviction to convince a crowd of thousands (easily one of the largest the band has ever played to) as they brought her to ecstatic tears was one of the proudest moments of my life. Every flower that was thrown at her (and there were several), and every tear that she shed, was earned- a culmination of understanding, validation, and the feeling of a moment.

Watching Graves’ transformation from fighting against some severe nerves and her total certainty that everything would go wrong (which, unfortunately, has seemed to be a trend at several of their recent shows) to the flower-adorned vocalist in the throes of one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, suddenly recognizing that everything was falling into place, prompted a feeling that’s literally impossible to put into words. It brought out the life in her, it brought out the life in the audience, and it sure as hell brought out the life in me- it’s those exact moments of subtle minutiae that I built this site to celebrate and to see it happen to someone who has become one of my closest friends was unforgettable. Being surrounded by strangers, all having extremely intense reactions that paralleled mine was an experience in camaraderie that all festivals are supposed to foster; where the setting suddenly doesn’t matter and everyone’s putting their all into the performance happening on the stage in front of them.

I“, “Driver“, “Bells”, “Interference Fits“, “Big Stars”, “III”, “Advance Upon the Real”, the songs came one after another, with no interruptions from the band other than an occasional thank you. The order didn’t matter because no one had time to react; every song felt like a perfectly-timed triumph that whipped the audience into a frenzy (shouting “Since when do we say yes to love?” during “Interference Fits” with 3,000 strangers and a few close friends broke the plane of ecstasy right into total catharsis). All of the front rows were doing their best to hold onto something, anything, for dear life as a mosh pit threatened to consume them. Railings were saviors, heads were kicked in, elbows were thrown, and everybody made sure that if someone else was in trouble, they were given the attention that they needed to prevent anything damaging from happening. Everything and everyone was unified in a staggering display of the exact kind of support the band does their best to endorse. No oppression, only care.

As the band wound their set down with Sutkus’ noise, sweat-and-tear-strained mascara was running down Graves’ unbelieving face; a lasting image of gratitude. She took out a camera to take a snapshot of an adoring audience, still in stunned disbelief, visibly overwhelmed, as everyone else quietly packed up, unable to contain smiles of their own. Nothing had gone wrong. Nothing had broken. Nothing had stopped the band- and it’s extremely unlikely anything could have stopped them after a certain point, anyway. As everyone left, Sutkus stayed, still completely entranced by the moment, doing one of his best noise deconstructions to date, as people in the audience caught their breath and looked on, either in awe, wonderment, or a state of complete and total confusion. Perfect Pussy had said just about everything they’d ever wanted to say with that set, in exactly the way it should be said. Actions became words, words became daggers with pinpoint accuracy, and no one could be bothered to tear themselves away. Each one of their thirty minutes (a marathon set, by their standards) was paid back in full by an unrelenting applause- and somewhere, off in the corner of my mind, that applause has refused to cease. Hats off to the band, hats off to the film crew (who provided some stunning visuals), hats off to the sound crew, and hats off to the audience who finally gave the band exactly the kind of recognition they deserve.

NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)

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This was it; this was every single reason I came to NXNE. A band that means so much to me that I refuse to write about them from my usual distant vantage point headlining a bill stacked full of personal favorites. A finale where vocalist Meredith Graves, whom I love dearly and have called the patron saint of this site, shed her skin so completely that you could see her soul. A set that literally set an amp head on fire. A split crowd that was as violent as it was enchanted; both sides frozen to their spot, shouting out insults or silently praying for the well-being of Graves as she sank to the floor, adjusting the microphone with her. A bass that was split in half over the knee of Greg Ambler, broken out of frustration, regret, and helplessness.  A kiss on the cheek. A small but meaningful exchange several minutes before the chaos that Perfect Pussy has so capably controlled in the past finally reared its head and did its best to consume them; the unfailing resilience of three people desperate to fight back. A fierce performance that turned into an unforgettable event. A religious experience.

Nearly all of that happened in the band’s final ten minutes and that was nearly every participant’s takeaway. Accusations started rolling in almost as soon as the band was forcefully escorted off of the stage by the same staff that refused to help them when their bass amp finally gave out. “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band”, “the singer can’t handle pressure”, “that fucking sucked”, “this is exactly what happened at the bridge a few months ago at SXSW”. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong again. I’ll get to all of that in a moment but not before I get to what nearly everyone writing about this has seemingly forgotten: prior to that point, while still struggling with some sound issues (most notably bass and vocal levels), Perfect Pussy was careening headlong into their set and had whipped an audience- that had previously been almost uniformly gentle- into an outright frenzy. Bruises, cuts, and blows were given and earned at roughly the same rate. No one had any intention of stopping as the band, as they do at their best, ceased resembling a band and instead became more reminiscent of a white-hot wrecking ball. All of the songs came at a blink-and-it’s-gone clip, one after another: “Driver”, “Bells”, “Work”, “Big Stars”, each song inciting a new aggressive push in the audience- and in the band.

Then, everything was broken wide open; smoke started emanating from the bass head as the circuitry caught fire, a visibly shaken Graves looked out into a spot of nothingness and repeated “I don’t know how to ask for help”. A guitar that was re-purposed as a bass was split over a knee and handed off to a hungry audience (the instrument was no big loss- Ambler hadn’t expected it to last the weekend). Then, a few moments of confusion passed, looks were exchanged, and without warning Graves, drummer Garrett Koloski, and noise extraordinaire Shaun Sutkus all started to sink their teeth in as Ambler and guitarist Ray McAndrew exited the stage. What, just moments ago, had been an explosive set was now taking on new life as performance art.

It didn’t take long for the jeering to begin: every variation of “you suck” and “get off the stage” were directed at the surviving trio. Most damningly, though, was the repeated chant of “fuck off and go die”. Initially, after hearing Graves’ exhaustion in a short exchange before their set, I was filled with concern for my friend as I watched her tremble, on the verge of tears, before her exaggerated breathing fell in line with the rhythmic propulsion provided by Koloski and Sutkus. As Graves seemed to pull herself further inward, she began to fall into a quiet desperation and began repeating the mantra of “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” (this same mantra is buried within the recesses of “VII”, the outstanding album-closer from Say Yes to Love). As this was happening, I stopped taking pictures. I considered jumping the edge of the stage to embrace my friend (a few of the people attending this with me urged me to do the same); someone who I was convinced was on the verge of a complete breakdown. My feet were cemented to the spot, I’m not sure I could have moved if I had tried.

Then, it clicked. I saw something in Graves’ eyes- a certain determination that is unique to her. It’s that same determination that’s helped make her one of the most compelling performers of this generation (a claim I don’t make lightly and one I’ve firmly believed since well before our first few talks). After receiving that small reassurance, I pulled my camera back out and began documenting- still concerned but no longer overcome with fear and anxiety. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a pool of silenced onlookers and unfiltered vitriol; the critical-commercial contrast of Perfect Pussy come to complete and total fruition. That contrast is one of the things that drove me to the band in the first place, two extremes so vocally present in two separate mediums: the content of the article vs. the comments section. Only that night, the two audiences that stood in contrast to each other weren’t critics and readers; it was the actual audience vs. the band itself. And all of the sudden, that mantra “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” took on a new, layered meaning.

The five qualities contained in that mantra are the five you’re supposed to live without. It’s a philosophy that Graves has embraced- only on the night of June 20, 2014, she got hung up on one: regret. Graves would eventually break the mantra to repeat “regret’ over and over, taking as few breaths as possible. I would find out later, as she repeated the word each time, she was crawling back into her past and doing her best to address and forgive all of the regrets that she was still clinging to. Reality began to flirt with art once more and a newfound sadness crept into Graves’ repetitions. As each breath became shorter, each new face inflected with more pain, and each word grew more impassioned, the microphone was drawn closer to the floor. A few minutes into this brutally rigorous self-examination, the moment took hold of Graves and the weight of it drove her incrementally down until, finally, she was kneeling on the stage, flush, short of breath, a few tears escaping, and doing her best to manage her demons.

In those moments, everything around me felt quiet, even though the chants continued. Graves didn’t have that luxury; she instead chose to fixate on that harrowing “fuck off and go die” chant coming from at least one person. “Fuck off and go die”. “Fuck off and go die”. “FUCK OFF AND GO DIE.” Each new iteration was what Graves chose to take from the audience in front of her- and she obliged it. Graves would steal me away for a beer and talk about this at length the next day, which is a conversation where I’d learn new lengths of her empathy and understanding: “Fuck off and go die?” “Okay, if you want to see me die, I’ll destroy myself in front of you. Maybe then you’ll finally find some happiness.” This, in a nutshell, is one of the strongest reasons for my celebrations of Perfect Pussy. That dedication to compassion for all sides, a trait exhibited most strongly by Graves and adamantly reinforced by the best of the band. There’s an earnest quality to Perfect Pussy that stands in direct opposition to the apathy so prevalent in music earning acclaim today. This performance, more than any other offering the band has given, cemented their conviction.

Graves would later go on to say that during her reactionary exchange with the bold heckling, she couldn’t stop thinking of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović- her piece “Rhythm 0” in particular- and it’s hard to blame her. The parallels that she’s had to endure are eerily similar; it’s never easy to be subjected to a public trial when more than half of the audience seems intent on doing their best to make you aware that they can end you. I’ve been back to Perfect Pussy’s performance in my head time and time again, each time with a little more contextual information. Nothing can ever fully duplicate what it was like watching everything unfold but each revisit’s provided at least one more new answer or one more stray thought. My certainty about some aspects increases while my curiosity about the rest of it grows exponentially.

At least those accusations that were quoted above can all be dealt with simply: “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band?” No, Ambler’s “hissy fit” wasn’t pure impulsion; everyone in the band had done all they could to warrant attention to some potentially venue-threatening problems, he did what was quite literally one of the only things that they could have done to finally get it. “The singer can’t handle pressure?” No. That’s what most of this piece has been about; it’s also worth noting that I shared a few words with a guitarist from The Kickback, who had come for Spoon but secured a spot for Perfect Pussy, who may have put it most adeptly: “I loved it. It was in your face and you just had to deal with it. They made you deal with it. It was what punk’s supposed to be.” Ambler’s bass-breaking was certainly a far cry from his flinging a previous bass off a bridge in Austin during SXSW– while it’s true both instances were motivated in part by frustration and both took place at music festivals, that’s literally their only connecting threads. “That fucking sucked?” I know I can’t definitively state whether something’s good or bad- but I will do my best to argue that particular assumption every time I come across it.

One part that keeps haunting me, no matter how many angles I approach it from, is how the set ended. It didn’t end on the artist’s terms and felt like a total violation of artistry in general. It was the pinnacle of an evening that was full of behind-the-scenes hostility. Whether it came from ill-mannered heckling, whether it came from a beer being literally grabbed out of one of the previous performer’s hands backstage by the crew that was on hand for the evening, by the (likely unintentionally) overbearing nature of the marketing campaign to let just about anyone know that Spoon was the “secret” headliner well before doors, and the ever-present corporatization of a lineup full of artists that do their best to champion independent ideals. Then, in a final egregious public manifestation, that hostility took on its most present form by way of NXNE security marching onstage to remove the three remaining members of Perfect Pussy by force.

First they came to Sutkus, who looked at them with some disbelief, heard something and shook his head “no” before wordlessly exiting the stage; Koloski followed roughly the same routine while throwing his hands up in mild disgust. I’d find out later that they were both asked to escort the now crumpled-on-the-floor Graves from her position at the microphone. They came for her last, as she was still shouting “regret”, visibly shaken and deep inside her own thoughts: “Regret!” “Regret!” “Re-GRET!” “REGRET!” ringing out more clearly than ever, now with no synthesizers to back it- only some light, propulsive drumming. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, more furiously than ever. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, on its own, with only jeers and stunned, apprehensive silence serving as the backdrop. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGR-“. A hand on the shoulder, a look up, a sad acceptance. A snapped trance. A return to real life with a new lease. A stunned audience.

And then, as Graves was being forcibly helped off the stage by the same staff that refused to help her when she needed it, she flashed a bleary smile, in one final and defiant act of heartbreaking bravery.

All I could do was applaud.

An extensive photo gallery of this set can be accessed here.

Watch This: Vol. 30

Well, it finally happened. Waatch This is officially back on track and back to its regular every-Sunday rotation- and this week was particularly stacked. There was an incredible Serious Business feature from BreakThruRadio on Hive Bent, a beautiful Allston Pudding session with Saintseneca, and Mansions turned in what was arguably their best performance for an absolutely incendiary run for Little Elephant. None of them made this week’s installment. There were various reasons that kept each of them out and what wound up being featured was a fairly eclectic mix of full sets, single songs, old favorites, and at least one face that’s completely new to this site. So, sit back, relax, continue on with some day drinking, and Watch This.

1. Bob Mould – I Don’t Know You Anymore (The Current)

Bob Mould should be a household name by now. One of the most influential and well-respected songwriters to emerge from the 80’s/90’s DIY punk/hardcore heyday, he’s already amassed an army of untouchable classics that have his name on them and he’s in the midst of a staggering resurgence that’s currently seeing him match his past glory. Beauty & Ruin is one of 2014’s best and isn’t in danger of losing that position by year’s end. It’s driven by gems like “I Don’t Know You Anymore” which Mould recently deliver a commanding solo performance of for Minneapolis’ 89.3 The Current. That can be seen below.

2. Archie Powell & the Exports – Everything’s Fucked (Jam in the Van)

This isn’t the first time that this song’s appeared on this site and the feelings towards it haven’t changed. “Everything’s Fucked” is a song that aims to scorch the earth that surrounds it and shows a total disregard for anything attempting to get in its way. Here, the band delivers a fierce, ragged performance of it for Jam in the Van during their SXSW stay and hold absolutely nothing back. It’s a jolt of energy that’s strong enough to inject a jump-start into any dreary Sunday; keep it on file for those occasions.

3. Hop Along (unARTigNYC)

unARTigNYC is back in a big way this week: this is the first of three videos the channel posted that will be featured as the extended closing sequence for this week’s Watch This. Now, this will come with a touch of Deja Vu for any longtime readers of the site as Vol. 15 also featured a full Hop Along set that was also posted by unARTigNYC that was also captured at Saint Vitus. Lightning can strike twice. The only real differences are the sets and the fact that this was a Pitchfork showcase that also featured Pleasure Leftists, Frankie Cosmos, and the band occupying this installment’s fifth slot All of the new material Hop Along has been playing out is pointing towards one thing; whenever that record drops, it’s going to be a big deal that a lot of people will be very passionate about. Expect to see a stream of praise coming from sites like this one the moment that happens. For now, just enjoy the fact there are things like this out there to keep everyone excited (and deeply impressed).

4. Charles Bradley – The World Is Going Up In Flames (unARTigNYC)

Are there any stories in music from this decade more inspiring than the ascension of Charles Bradley? It’s sincerely doubtful. Plucked from obscurity during his days as a James Brown impersonator, he impressed all the right people and wound up signing a deal with Daptone Records, the most influential label in soul. Before that moment, and during the interim, the now-65 year old Bradley went through some extraordinarily harsh times. Almost dying and experiencing great personal tragedy didn’t deter him, though, and in 2011 his debut record No Time for Dreaming was met the same way his sophomore effort, 2013’s Victim of Love was: they both garnered immediate acclaimed and helped elevate Bradley to being one of the biggest names in his genre. Now affectionately known as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”, Bradley has greeted any kind of interest with overwhelming appreciation and humility. If there’s one thing to feel good about in music, it’s his success- a success driven by charisma and raw natural talent.

5. Perfect Pussy (unARTigNYC)

Perfect Pussy, the band whose name makes Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan blush every time she says it, headlined the recent Pitchfork showcase at Saint Vitus. They also now have a commanding lead as the band featured most on this site, which should mean that close to everything’s already been said about them here. While that might be the case, I’m not even close to done talking about Perfect Pussy and I doubt I’ll ever be. Part of the reason for this is their high-velocity live show. Each of their shows is its own beast, though they all seem to clock in at around 20 minutes, which are infused with the most blistering whirlwind of sound and unrepentant aggression anyone could imagine (this fact has caused a lot of confusion from people who aren’t familiar with hardcore and the people that don’t understand how quickly high-intensity physical exertion can lead to dangerous levels of exhaustion). Vocalist Meredith Graves greets the triviality of those complaints the only way she knows how: with a smile (for proof of this, check the :40 mark for a memorable quip). Her lyrics are some of the most unflinchingly honest I’ve ever encountered and, impossibly, stand as both a complement and contrast to the band’s performance. In prose, Perfect Pussy can come off as slightly withdrawn and full of guarded desperation- but even then, it’s so forward that it feels like that same gut-punch the live show so readily and consistently provides. Here, the band’s in fine form, Graves is the physical manifestation of an internal maelstrom or three; Shaun Sutkus project a steely, detached calm to provide some stability behind his setup of synths; the rhythm section of Greg Ambler and Garrett Koloski both make sure they’re as physically present as Graves is and guitarist Ray McAndrew keeps his head down while providing an additional thrashing body. If it sounds chaotic, it’s because it is- it’s also all so improbably controlled that it makes their sets unforgettable affairs- no matter how long or short they wind up being. Add all of these qualities to the fact that Graves is currently one of the most outspoken public figures in an ongoing fight against multiple kinds of oppression and Perfect Pussy winds up exactly where they should be: as one of the most important bands that we’ve got. See them (and support them) as soon as humanly possible.

Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love (Album Review)

At this point, no artist has earned as many mentions on Heartbreaking Bravery as Perfect Pussy. They’ve been such an influence on this space that I’ve made my peace with breaking Heartbreaking Bravery’s no first-person narrative rule when it comes to them for coverage. They’ve had a deeply personal impact and it’s not something that I take for granted. As both payback to them and as a kindness, when something as major as Say Yes to Love comes along, the only reaction I can offer is one that’s totally uninhibited. Where Meredith Graves lays her soul bare in the music, I’ll attempt to get to the core of mine in response. This isn’t some secondhand chore, either, it’s born of the same instinctively guttural nature so prominent in the band’s music. All of that, and reasons I’ll get to shortly, serves as enough reason to sever the ties of a faceless mask and dive into Say Yes to Love completely free of any filter that may impede personal sincerity.

That the crux of the last conversation I had with Graves was sincerity has been touched on before but is worth mentioning again to aid in some contextualization of Say Yes to Love. It’s a record full of unbridled confessionals, taking any notion of passivity and strangling it to death. Graves emerged as one of the more fearless lyricists out there last year with the release of the band’s career-making demo I have lost all desire for feeling.  There were no reservations about holding back or closing people out, it was a cathartic gut-spilling on a deeply personal level. More impressively, and this isn’t something that’s mentioned often, is that it was highly literate. Graves is an admitted Barthes disciple and a voracious reader and that continues to show itself in her lyrics. It’s part of what made I have lost all desire for feeling so arresting and it’s what helps push Say Yes to Love to even greater heights.

Say Yes to Love is a record that showcases a surprising depth of range for the band that was only previously hinted at. From “Driver“, their fucking firecracker of an opener, straight through to the pulsating damaged electronic looping of “VII”, there are moments that will legitimately stun (and completely baffle) a fair amount of anyone lucky enough to listen to it. While “Driver” has been covered before, it’s worth noting that the song only grows stronger with each consecutive listen. When the music gets heavy and Graves drags one syllable of some unintelligible word to the peak of the mix is still one of the most thrilling moments of music I’ve heard this year. Everything’s delivered at breakneck pace and, in an incredibly rare case, there are no diminishing returns to be found in its intensity. The same holds true for the rest of the band’s music, which is likely another reason they’re experiencing a growing groundswell of success.

Much like Rooms of the House, this is a record that doesn’t take its foot off the gas pedal and hurtles itself towards an unknown destination, almost hoping for total catastrophe. There’s never a moment on Say Yes to Love that isn’t blisteringly intense, even when it’s at its quietest (“Interference Fits“) or indulging in disorienting electronic work. There’s always an exhilarating sense of not giving a fuck and letting go. It doesn’t matter what’s being let go either- whether it be control, memories, defenses, or order, there’s a definite sense of freedom to be found here. All of Say Yes to Love feels like a feral animal that’s longed to escape for decades only to have woken up without any constraints. Each of these eight songs is rabid and wild-eyed, wrapped up in nothing but cathartic honesty and temperamental attitude.

Earlier tonight the band played a characteristically fierce set as part of NPR’s SXSW showcase before Graves and noisemaker Shaun Sutkus sat down with NPR afterwards to discuss many things. One of them was the shifting nature of punk and how that while it is something that’s continuously evolving, one thing’s always stayed relatively similar: the attitude. On this front, it’s difficult to think of a higher-visibility punk band so fully embracing that aspect of the genre’s undeniable aesthetic. While the band’s music certainly flirts with art punk and hardcore, they’re never going to shake the punk descriptor because of how deeply that attitude is embedded into their music. It’s something that moves past Graves’ stunning lyricism and Sutkus’ unconventional approach to the way they present themselves onstage both physically and verbally- it’s even apparent in Graves’ empathy, kindness, and open honesty offstage. There are no apologies, everything is unbridled and nothing is held back. It’s fucked up and it’s beautiful- which may be the perfect way to describe Say Yes to Love.

Finding beauty in the damaged aspects of life is one of Graves’ underlining messages, intentional or not, and it’s worth celebrating. It’s not all of an anxiety-inducing seriousness, though, there are definitely some aspects of pure joy and just-for-the-hell-of-it brand fun scattered throughout the band’s music. Whether it’s a sly turn-of-phase, a winking chord progression, lighting off firecrackers in a local park before running from the cops, or swirling Graves’ menstrual blood into clear vinyl LP’s for the deluxe release of Say Yes to Love, it’s abundantly clear that the band’s youthful nature is as spry as it ever was. It’s hard not to spot that sense of fun in the relentless 1-2-3 punch of “Bells”, “Big Stars”, and “Work”. “Bells” has a jumpy glee-inducing tempo-shifting ending, “Big Stars” has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek from the get-go (the title alone…), and “Work”, while being the most serious of a three song set intense enough to render anyone breathless, has a fun-as-hell (albeit ridiculously pulverizing) final minute. That “Work” has such a ridiculously high level of intensity is no mistake, as it precedes “Interference Fits”, not only the center piece of the record, not only Graves’ most personal moment, not only the band’s mot stunning accomplishment, but one of the outright best songs of the past several years.

When “Work” ends abruptly and trails off into feedback, it sets up the surprisingly gorgeous first section of “Interference Fits”, which has Graves exploring her deepest fears and desires in a very public forum. Then, it happens. One of my favorite moments of any song; a measure of silence. That silence comes directly after the record’s most devastating moment, that finds Graves pleading out into nothingness “Since when do we say yes to love?!” It’s a moment that allows the listener to pause and reflect on the gravity of that question, one that should hopefully open up an internal dialogue for anyone who’s ever doubted the various positions of love in everyday life. It’s also a moment of restraint from a band known for being exhaustively restless. Most importantly, though, it’s a reprieve that makes the ensuing back half of “Interference Fits” sound absolutely massive, unleashing a deep-seated moment of catharsis as the band goes off like a volcano and a cavalcade of vocals descend on the listener, interfering with each other, as if Graves is inviting us to her own personal struggle. It’s intensely voyeuristic and- prefaced with that measure of silence- all too real. I’ll forever be grateful that there’s nearly a full minute of feedback to close that song out, as it allows some time to regain stability and composure.

Following “Interference Fits” is Say Yes to Love‘s shortest track, “Dig”, which doesn’t even eclipse a minute and a half but does effectively work as a shot in the arm after the ridiculously powerful “Interference Fits” and the record’s next big moment- “Advance Upon the Real”. Having originally appeared on the wonderful Beyond Inversion compilation, “Advance Upon the Real” showcases both extremes of Perfect Pussy- the frenzied hardcore-influenced assault of the band at their most revved up and the minimal deconstruction that so often serve as the band’s buried soundbed. In the song’s opening minute and a half, it’s an all-out auditory blitz- but when it hits that 1:30 mark it scales back drastically, revealing an ambient drone that’s manipulated so perfectly it feels like a lost Eluvium track. When it yields control, the record reveals its most shocking moment: “VII”.

If Perfect Pussy hadn’t made the impression they were subversive, they’re certainly going to be wearing that tag proudly now. “VII” is, by a long stretch, the most jarring and outright insane thing they’ve committed to a recording. The only point of reference that I can possibly think of for the almost nightmarish sound experimentation that takes place in “VII” is Giles Corey’s Deconstructionist, a 90+ minute sound experiment designed to induce trances, possession states, and out-of-body experiences that actually required instructional literature to guide the listener through the preparation. While, granted, “VII” is nowhere near as intensive on anything to be found in Deconstructionist, it skews closer to that than, say, the most unsettling points of Tim Hecker’s Virgins. It’s an extremely unsettling end to a record that lives up to and surpasses a few dozen mountains worth of expectations. With “VII”, Perfect Pussy manages to shatter any misconceptions about barriers they’re willing to cross. For Say Yes to Love, largely a positive record, to end on a note of sustained ambient menace (Graves’ vocals only appear briefly, distorted almost beyond recognition, rattling off bulletin points – among other things) is just the right level of total insanity to up the respective levels of anticipation on whatever the band does next (still waiting on more news of that split 7″ with Joanna Gruesome).

Once Say Yes to Love plays itself out, it’s almost impossible to not want to dive right back into it. It’s a record that’s built for exploring. Once again, Graves has held up a mirror to herself and the world will be poised to see themselves in it as well. There are oceans of things to relate to that are littered throughout Say Yes to Love. They’re all on open display, Graves is under the knife, guitars are splicing her open and the drums are pushing everyone further into their respective roles. “Driver”, “Advance Upon the Real”, and especially “Interference Fits” all feel more vibrant and alive as part of a masterfully sequenced and paced collection, while all of the new songs strike nerves deep enough to become memorable. None of the band’s immediacy has been sacrificed and- if anything- they sound simultaneously more joyous and more pissed off than they ever have before. With their increasing levels of visibility, Say Yes to Love also seems poised to deepen the divide between those celebrating the band and those mercilessly deriding it. Be prepared to have an opinion and back it up because this band isn’t going away anytime soon- and as long as they keep making music this good, I’ll be one of the people on the rooftops, shouting their praises as loud as I possibly can.

Stream Say Yes to Love over at NPR’s First Listen series and pick the record up when it comes out on 3/18 via Captured Tracks. “Interference Fits” can be streamed below.