Stream Amy Bezunartea New Villain (Stereogum Premiere)

Villainous women are usually defined by their treachery, sexuality, and intelligence. Female villains plot and plan, dismantling the powers that be with sly subversions and intricate, studied feints of innocence. Our perception of a villain is always evil, because they are fighting against the world at large, which we generally perceive to be good. But what if the world itself is the evil place? Then our villain becomes a Robin Hood, an outlaw plotting the destruction of a malicious, poisoned society. That is Amy Bezunartea on her album New Villain.

Accordingly, this album does not speak in the customary, loud language of defiance. It is quiet and graceful record, and it would almost be unassuming if it wasn’t full of wit and wisdom. It is an album about facing down your own frustration with self, then moving past that to take on the forces that evoke your own self-loathing. This comes to a head on “It’s Disgusting,” which sounds like a tape-to-tape recording of self-hatred but emerges as a ghostly castaway of a Mountain Man song. It’s a track brimming with white noise — like the sound of the sea caught in a shell — mimicking the buzzy undercurrent of these messages in our culture. These are tough battles, and though there is no bravado here, there is immense courage. When we interviewed her, Bezunartea talked about how she was tired of finding herself in the same old situations, tired of running into the walls and limitations of her own self. But if New Villain was born from frustration, it moves past that trap and toward actual progress.

Lush, gritted-teeth ballad “Oh The Things A Girl Must Do” is indicative of this and functions as something of a centerpiece for the record. “The worst part of it is / That I am good / I’m actually good / I’m so much more than this,” she sings. More importantly, she believes it. Her commentary continues, unfurling this anti-love song into an assertion of self-worth cloaked in the disappointment of our culture’s sex-as-romance and romance-to-achieve-coitus culture. “They all want the pussy / But they don’t like the smell,” she notes, a devastating couplet that is somehow devoid of judgement, but is also devoid of earlier loathing. Because if you believe you’re good, you’re actually good, every part of you assumes beauty, even if no one else acknowledges it. In this song she also looks back on her old selves with love, and grieves at her own evolution, affirming every iteration of her existence. This feels like the most necessary thing a girl must do, and a thing we are never encouraged to do.

Bezunartea’s lush, slowcore songwriting excavates societal pressure under the guise of acoustic fears, but the fear quickly slips away. “I just want to love you / But I don’t have the room,” she sings on “Nothing Goes Away.” Even here, in this admission, she’s making space in herself for something else to emerge. Naming your fears is the first step toward defeating them, and though she worries at her own rigidity, it melts into grace only a couple songs later on “Friends Again.” Of course these songs both appear, as Bezunartea wrote New Villain over the course of five years, and they can now coexist quite easily. “We can finally live weightless and free / Friends again, you and me,” she sings, a sob of relief almost palpable in her tone. Anger and forgiveness surface again in “Those People” and “Something To Show You,” as Bezunartea deftly navigates the murky grey of stormy relationships. She’s still looking at the skeletons of past selves, and the way those bones may or may not fit in with the discarded selves of other people.

Progress does not equal perfection though, and healing does not mean the past is restored. On the title track Bezunartea acknowledges this: “Take all your discomfort too / Take it, it belongs to you.” Her most villainous act to date is refusing to be complicit in the vicious cycles of insecurity. The album’s closer is called “Wreckage,” but it’s the most peaceful, resolute song here. It’s about taking ownership of your own life and finding the beauty in the very things that other people would dismiss or demean. Shipwrecked in a jagged world, Bezunartea has created her own lifesaver. Innocence is wisdom, too. If self-love is villainy, then welcome to the dark side. Listen below.

New Villain is out 9/25 via Kiam. Pre-order it here.