Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Mannequin Pussy Romantic

Think about all the ways you’ve seen anxiety presented in music: David Byrne’s bug-eyed stare; Public Enemy’s siren-wail blurts; the way math-rock time shifts force you in and out of the groove. A lot of the time, this is music (and presentation) that puts the anxiety on you, that forces you into a state of nervousness. We almost never get to hear that kind of anxiety actually radiating out of the performer. But that’s what you get on Romantic, the second album from Philly punks Mannequin Pussy. This is a deeply nervous album, an album that trips all over itself in saying what it needs to say before getting the fuck out. It hurtles from one idea to the next with furious force. But it never loses its focus, and that’s what makes it cathartic.

On Romantic, Mannequin Pussy roughly jam 11 songs into 17 minutes. It’s an album that just blasts along, never taking a moment to pause for breath. Nevermind choruses; there are almost no parts where frontwoman Marisa Dabice even bothers to repeat the same line twice in one song. She doesn’t give herself time for that. The songs work as feverish little bursts of energy: jagged and mean and giddy. But within that short amount of time, the band crams in enough full hooks and melodic ideas that most bands would need more than an hour to spread them all out. Some of the songs are headlong bursts of Minor Threat-style old-timey hardcore, and some are towering fuzz-riff monoliths that recall the ’90s moment when the phrase “noise-rock” meant “something that isn’t punk and isn’t metal but could sort of pass for either.” Still others, like the title track, do that vintage Sonic Youth/Helium/Blonde Redhead thing where they oscillate between quiet, vulnerable melody and pedal-mash tumult in a way that lends depth to both extremes.

Lyrically, too, Dabice comes off as both tough and vulnerable, often at the same time. As a singer, she switches between a scratchy yell and a soft, melodic singsong that she really only uses for effect. And she communicates stress and depression in direct, economical, tight phrases: “I am not ashamed to be lonely but I’m afraid to feel it so deeply,” “It really bugs me that you don’t look me in the eyes anymore when you speak to me.” “Pledge” is one of the fastest and most furious songs on the album, and it’s also the most anthemic, building a mantra out of self-love: “I pledge allegiance to myself and nothing else / Oh, nothing.” And she has a way of taking the darkest, heaviest things that go through our brains when we’re trying to fall asleep at night and putting them into simple, matter-of-fact language: “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 this isn’t a depressing album, and it isn’t a difficult one, either. Mannequin Pussy don’t pull punches, and they don’t go for easy resolution, but there’s something liberating about hearing them belt this shit out in these squalid little punk-rock sprints. And maybe everything I’ve written about the album makes it sound dire and oppressive. Trust: It isn’t. Romantic is a fun album. These songs don’t play like freakouts. They’re linear things, put together with grace and confidence by people who know what they’re doing. The band plays with drive and spirit, careening from one explosive headrush hook to the next. And when the tingly dopamine-hit of those first songs wears off, the album is over, demanding you to just go ahead and hit play again.

Romantic is out 10/28 on Tiny Engines. Stream it below.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Tove Lo’s hazy pop undulation Lady Wood.
• Honeyblood’s catchy-as-hell alt-rocker Babes Never Die.
• Ricky Eat Acid’s glitchily ambitious Talk To You Soon.
• Empire Of The Sun’s sun-streaked dance-popper Two Vines.
• Sasha Siem’s orchestral, slow-swelling Bird Burning.
• Strokes side project CRX’s debut album New Skin.
• Clear Plastic Masks’ dark, scuzzy garage rocker Nazi Hologram.
• Iceage side project Marching Church’s grim Telling It Like It Is.
• Connan Mockasin/LA Priest team-up Soft Hair’s self-titled LP.
• Slothrust’s hooky rocker Everyone Else.
• Tkay Maidza’s dance-rap head-trip TKAY.
• Pacific Northwest clang-rock supergroup Nocturnal Habits’ New Skin For Old Children.
• Miniature Tigers’ breezy, twangy I Dreamt I Was A Cowboy.
• Big Smoke’s posthumous goodbye Time Is Golden.
• Helmet’s dependable pounder Dead To The World.
• Michael Mayer’s atmospheric, melodic house LP &.
• Sam Kogon’s layered DIY effort Psychic Tears.
• Anil Sebastian’s lush electronic debut Mesonoxian.
• Future States’ smooth indie-folk debut Casual Listener.
• Twin Limb’s dream-pop debut Haplo.
• Vermin Womb’s nasty death/grind attack Decline.
• The Pop Group’s postpunk reunion affair Honeymoon On Mars.
• Lou Barlow’s Apocalypse Fetish EP.
• Tony Molina’s Confront The Truth EP.
• Uniform’s Ghosthouse EP.
• Leo Kalyan’s Outside In EP.
• Fluisteraars’ Gelderland EP.
• Casper Skulls’ Lip & Skull EP.
• Many Voices Speak’s Away For All Time EP.