Band To Watch

Band To Watch: Mannequin Pussy

The first half of “Denial” — the third single from Mannequin Pussy’s sophomore album, Romantic — is designed to sound like someone having a panic attack. Marisa Dabice is trapped inside her own head, unable to escape a spiraling depressive cycle: “At night sometimes my thoughts collide/ My body shakes/ I feel so separated from what I thought I’d be and what I am.” But something miraculous happens midway through the song: She manages to pull herself out of the hole she’s dug, and the rest of the band responds in kind. The tension slacks; Dabice launches into an affirmative pep talk: “Pick yourself up, baby/ Everything’s gonna be fine/ But if not, so what?/ You’ll get it the next time.”

It’s a pointedly zen moment on an album that embraces wild and erratic mood swings. Mannequin Pussy vacillate between caustic hardcore anthemics and sickly sweet punk-pop riffs at the drop of a dime. Both sides of the coin help to push the band’s ultimate goal: music that cuts through the ever-present noise in your head with … well, more noise. Their songs mimic the looping, self-destructive thought patterns that occur in our most anxious moments — they act as a way to better understand those patterns and, ultimately, overcome them.

Those drastic mid-song shifts are purposeful: “Sometimes I feel like artists can be beholden to doing a song in a particular emotion or style, and are expected to keep repeating that,” Dabice tells me when we meet at the Silent Barn in Brooklyn at the end of September. “That’s not really the human experience at all. You don’t feel the same way about a situation from the beginning to the end of it. You can go through all the stages of grief in one sitting, thinking about the same thing from every possible perspective.”

So Mannequin Pussy attempt to account for the totality of the emotional spectrum in ruthless, hard-hitting songs: Rational anger bleeds into irrational desire, which twists into a feeling approximating inner peace. Their tracks hang around the one-to-two minute mark; they don’t believe in repetition — if you want to hear it again, just play it again. Their hooks are packed into tight microbursts that burn bright before they have a chance to burn out. It’s a tightrope high-wire act: They possess the fury of a thrashing hardcore band and the intense beating heart of something more interior, and their ability to balance both sides of that equation has only gotten stronger the further they get into their career.

The band began as a duo consisting of childhood friends Dabice and Thanasi Paul. Their first LP — which came out in 2013 and was reissued on Tiny Engines in 2014 — saw them adding a third member, and for Romantic, they solidified around a four-piece made up of Dabice, Paul, Kaleen Reading, and Colins Regisford (affectionately known as Bear). Together, they make some of the smartest and most economically-constructed punk music to come out in a long while.

Mannequin Pussy’s dense towers of noise are underlined by Dabice’s evocative and passionate lyrical poetry. On Romantic, she’s attempting to figure out what romance means in the 21st century, both in a more sweeping sense and in the day-to-day. “Collectively, it felt very romantic to be working so hard on something together,” Dabice says. “I got really into reading about the Romantic era, as well, and I felt that there were a lot of strong parallels between what’s happening now and what was happening then. The thing with romance is that you start to feel really hopeful, you’re not as cynical. You can still be melancholy — romance doesn’t necessarily mean happiness — but I felt down and negative about a lot of stuff for a long time, and it took switching the way I look at life to see that things tend to get better sometimes, too.”

Each song on Romantic addresses a different facet of love in a biting and concise manner. Opener “Kiss” talks of its isolationist tendencies: “I am not ashamed to be lonely, but I’m afraid to feel it so deeply.” “Anything” expresses frustration at how an obsession can hold you back from your personal goals: “I want this more than anything/ I want it more than you.” “Meatslave One” (a companion track to two songs from earlier in their discography) thrashes about the disconnect caused by technology: “You don’t look me in the eyes anymore when you speak to me/ Is that soft glow in your hand so much more appealing than what’s going on in my life?” Dabice delivers these lines with anger and understanding — each time a new wound is ripped open, her voice shifts and provides the appropriate salve. The album cycles through a pattern of self-harm and self-care for 18 glorious minutes.

At one point during our conversation, Dabice refers to what her band is doing as “romantic punk-pop for the ADD generation,” a succinct soundbite that accurately represents what Mannequin Pussy achieve on Romantic. It’s a monumental accomplishment that could stand as a generation-defining account of love in these trying times.

Tour Dates:
10/21 Baltimore, MD @ Unregistered Nurse Fest
10/30 Gainesville, FL @ The Fest
11/01 St. Petersburg, FL @ The Bends
11/02 Tampa, FL @ Mojo Books & Records
11/03 St. Augustine, FL @ Nobbys
11/04 Atlanta, GA @ Rowdy Dowdy
11/05 Nashville, TN @ DRK MTR
11/06 Hattiesburg, MS @ House Show
11/07 Fayetteville, AR @ La La Land
11/08 Tulsa, OK @ Sound Pony
11/09 Oklahoma City, OK @ Powerhouse
11/10 Dallas, TX @ Spinster Records
11/12 McAllen, TX @ Yerberia Cultura
11/13 Austin, TX @ Cheer Up Charlies
11/15 Tuscon, AZ @ Rips Bar
11/16 San Diego, CA @ The Hideout
11/17 Los Angeles, CA @ Junior High
11/18 Los Angeles, CA @ Hi Hat
11/20 Reno, NV @ Holland Project
11/22 Salt Lake City, UT @ Big Iron
11/23 Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive
11/25 Omaha, NE @ Milk Run
11/26 Minneapolis, MN @ TBA
11/27 Chicago, IL @ Subterranean
11/28 Port Huron, MI @ Schwonk Soundstead
11/29 Columbus, OH @ TBA
11/30 Syracuse, NY @ Spit House
12/01 Burlington, VT @ Speaking Volumes
12/02 Haverford, PA @ Haverford College
12/03 Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Night Bazaar
12/04 Philadelphia, PA @ Everybody Hits
12/08 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
12/09 Blacksburg, VA @ Robin Williams Center For The Arts
12/10 Charlotte, NC @ Lunchbox Records
12/11 Raleigh, NC @ Neptunes

Romantic is out 10/28 via Tiny Engines. Pre-order it here.