“I don’t wanna talk about it any more than you,” Lande Hekt sings on one of the tracks on UK trio Muncie Girls’ debut full-length, From Caplan To Belsize. “In fact, I wanna talk about it less when it’s with you/ If you can’t get your head around it now, then how is this something I can help you figure out?”
Being tokenized and told you are expected to represent an entire group of people — the girl in the band, the queer in the scene, the person of color in a room — happens time and time again in the music industry and in day-to-day life, as you’re forced to talk about your otherness as a means to make the rest feel more comfortable and progressive for acknowledging your existence. There’s two paths to go down when confronted with this conflict: Refuse to engage with those seeking justification or explanation, an admirable but difficult goal when faced with the pressures of reality. Or to make sure that each time you do speak up, it’s as an exclamation point on a conversation that should have been over long ago, or at least have morphed beyond its current reductive state.
From Caplan To Belsize chooses the latter approach. It’s a pointed political record that acts as a means of hopefully putting this shit to rest forever. It’s in a constant dialogue with the past and itself: Sonically, it engages and emulates every wave of feminist punk from the Slits and Patti Smith to Veruca Salt and Sleater-Kinney and Huggy Bear to more recent ones like Hop Along and Screaming Females and Cayetana. Ideologically, there’s the Bell Jar reference of the title, a Plathian song called “Gas Mark 4.” The end of the video for “Respect” shows Hekt replacing a troublesome boy’s Bukowski collection with books like Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World, Courtney E. Smith’s Record Collecting For Girls.
The language Hekt uses to talk about misogyny is largely academic and theoretical, the reasons for which are laid out on the first track on the album, “Learn In School.” She laments that she was never taught any radical political ideas in school, and instead had to educate herself: “All the things you didn’t learn in school, and why it feels like no one knows the truth/ The systems we rely on aren’t for you, they’re for the lucky fucking few.” Hekt uses this thirst for knowledge to empower herself and incite the listener. She retreats into music and is emboldened by a community that is, at least at times, more tolerant and accepting: “All my life I’ve felt let down, and that’s perhaps why we feel safer underground.”
She echoes this sentiment on the record’s closing track — “They say people my age are full of apathy, but me and my friends act productively” — and expresses anxiety over never being informed enough: “I’ve been brushing up on my conflict and facts, trying to learn how to react/ Everything I read, I can’t get out of my head. I think I’ll bore myself to death thinking I’m so out of my depth.” But From Caplan To Belsize proves that Muncie Girls are more than prepared to participate in the conversation, and the record is unafraid and uncompromising about their ideals. It sounds like one giant push outwards: From the insular base of the Exeter punk scene they came up in and into the hearts and minds who may not have been exposed to these ideas just yet, or at least not in such a concise and direct manner.
There’s no track on here that demonstrates the band’s potential for social change better than “Respect,” a searing indictment of a culture that perpetuates abuse and misogyny: “For the next few years you can laugh and joke about your next victim, but when you’re all grown up and your daughter cries, you’ll be sorry you did this.” And the kicker: “It’s started again: Another girl has lost her energy. It’s so easy to pretend that this doesn’t happen in our society.” It’s a caustic and unforgiving message — as it should be — and Muncie Girls know how to deliver with enough hooks to make it really land.
On “Committee,” Muncie Girls look back at the past strains of radicalism that have died down and offer to pick up the torch: “Don’t believe that our minds have changed and our basic demands haven’t stayed the same/ We still have a debt that we need to repay to the suffragettes who’ve paved the way.” It ends with a plea to be included in the conversation: “There are a million reasons why we need to talk/ We can organize and sympathize and gather our thoughts/ Some alarms don’t sound in 4/4 time, some problems aren’t within our peripheral lines.”
From Caplan To Belsize isn’t all just agenda-setting, though that does serve as the crux of the record. The middle run of the album sees the band crafting less politicized narratives: “Social Side” is a touching tribute to the power and lasting impact of family, with odes to Hekt’s brother and sister being there for her through difficult times. “Gone With The Wind” pulses with antisocial and self-destructive fervor: “You can find me under the table, I’m not coming out/ I’ve had too many beers and I’ve got nothing to be happy about.” The sheer musicianship of the record is also worth a mention: Hekt and her bandmates Dean McMullen and Luke Ellis make dense and demanding songs to fit around Hekt’s manifestos, milking each dramatic turn of phrase to maximum effect.
But the most lasting and biting impact of Muncie Girls’ debut record are Hekt’s words and undeniable voice, ready to throw some punches in a fight that sadly is still ongoing. From Caplan To Belsize is a call-to-arms, a weapon to push the conversation forward — as she puts it on the opening track: “There are so many of us and there are so few of them/ We’re all thinking the same thing/ It’s just a matter of when.” We all have the potential for radicalism; it just needs to be activated. And society needs to be motivated to change.