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.