Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Mannequin Pussy Patience

Mannequin Pussy operate in extremes. Their self-released debut album, 2013’s GP, was hard and fast punk, 10 songs in under 20 minutes with names like “Pissdrinker” and “Clit Eastwood” and “Meatslave.” It was reissued by Tiny Engines in 2014, and two years later, the label released the band’s sophomore album, Romantic. On that LP, Marisa Dabice sang about falling in and out of negative thought patterns and even worse habits, managing to seem both vulnerable and completely terrifying from verse to verse. “I feel so separated from what I thought I’d be and what I am,” she explained on “Denial,” a song designed to sound like the onset of an anxiety attack. On Mannequin Pussy’s new album — and their Epitaph Records debut — those duelling personalities fight for the spotlight, resulting in the band’s most technically ambitious and dynamic album to date. Patience is Mannequin Pussy, full-optimized.

It didn’t happen overnight, and that’s part of what makes Patience such a rewarding listen for those who have followed this band since the beginning. Mannequin Pussy have existed, in some capacity, since the early 2010s, when Dabice (vocals, guitar) and her childhood friend Thanasi Paul (guitar, keys) started playing shows around the Northeast. For the Romantic era, they solidified as a four-piece band, adding bassist and vocalist Colins Rey Regisford and drummer Kaleen Reading to the permanent lineup. As Dabice and Paul have brought new members into the fold, the band’s range has expanded considerably, evolving from rough-around-the-edges punk to a breed of rock that integrates noise, shoegaze, grunge, metal, and honest-to-god indie. For Patience, the group worked with Will Yip, the Philly native who has been behind the boards for bands like Code Orange and Title Fight. Together, they made a record that oscillates between gnarled fury and wide-eyed wonderment without ever losing its footing.

That careful control is exhibited on lead single “Drunk II,” which is definitively Mannequin Pussy’s most “pop” song to date. It finds Dabice caught in a maelstrom of self-loathing as she confronts destructive tendencies: “Do you remember the nights I called you up?/ I was so fucked up/ I forgot we were broken up/ I still love you, you stupid fuck!” On earlier Mannequin Pussy songs, those lines might’ve been delivered in a screaming haze, purposefully obscured by layers of wiry guitars and unrelenting drumming. Aggression isn’t evoked here, only a swampy sadness that Dabice admits to on the chorus when she sings: “Everyone says to me/ ‘Missy you’re so strong!’/ But what if I don’t want to be?”

Such is the dilemma of the “Badass,” a label that is bestowed upon virtually every woman who plays guitar in our current era. It is considered a compliment, but “Drunk II” wonders when being thought of as a strong, uncompromising woman becomes its own kind of prison. On Patience, Dabice seems to be asking herself: Do I need to be loud in order to be heard?

The gentlest song on Patience is the ‘90s alt-rock indebted “Fear/+/Desire” and it illustrates a toxic relationship. “Does holding me down/ Make you feel desire?” Dabice sings, her register higher and more fragile than usual, a mode we only hear one other time on the towering declaration of independence “High Horse.” Sonically and lyrically, “Fear/+/Desire” reminds me of something I wrote on the 20th anniversary of Hole’s Celebrity Skin: “Even romance sounds like violence.” I was referencing “Hit So Hard,” a song that plays with double-entendre as it likens a massive crush to physical abuse when Courtney Love sings: “He hit so hard/ I saw stars/ He hit so hard/ I saw God.” On “Fear/+/Desire,” Dabice draws a direct parallel to that song (and to the Crystals’ 1963 single “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”) as she softly sings: “When you hit me/ It does not feel like a kiss/ Like the singers promised.” Here, Mannequin Pussy cut down a rock ‘n’ roll trope as readily as they adopt the plush soundscapes of Celebrity Skin with obvious reverence. It’s a delicious contradiction.

“Drunk II” and “Fear/+/Desire” aren’t outliers so much as they are indicators of how much Mannequin Pussy have grown and evolved in the years since they released their debut. That being said, there are still plenty of hard and fast songs to satisfy. On both GP and Romantic, Mannequin Pussy included two tracks that clock in at under a minute, and tradition stands on this new album. “Drunk I” hits right after “Fear/+/Desire” and it finds Dabice absolutely howling over a bed of feather-light backing harmonies. Regisford joins her later on “Clams,” and the two trade verses over a ferocious drum part that could make you sweat just listening to it. (Reading’s drums on this album, on the whole, deserve a shout-out. They are *chef’s kiss*.) When “Clams” gives way to “F.U.C.A.W.,” the tempo quickens and shifts between straight-up hardcore and raucous noise pop when Dabice howls: “Who the fuck you talking to boy?” Her aggression from the outset is unfuckwithable, directly competing with the delicate oohs and aaahs that swirl in the background.

It would be fair to read Patience as a “break-up album,” but it might be more accurate to consider it an “intervention album.” Most of these songs find our narrator pushing herself to escape circumstance and create a life that she’s proud to live in. In order to do that, she must first learn to actually like herself. This realization surfaces on “Who You Are,” a pep talk that borders on corny when Dabice sings, “You don’t have to change/ You can stay the same,” but the assertion makes a little bit of room to let someone new in: “I felt the earth move, in your eyes/ I get excited by your side.” The album closes with “In Love Again,” a giddy but cautious song about the promise of a new beginning. The spare handclaps and ascendant piano motif recalls something closer to Broken Social Scene than the music Mannequin Pussy’s punk forebears — it’s loose and arid, free of any tumult. “Let’s start anew/ Let’s see it through/ I’m so happy/ Laying here with you,” Dabice sings, piling fresh kindling onto love’s pyre.

Patience is out 6/21 via Epitaph.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Bedouine’s very chill Bird Songs Of A Killjoy.
• Hatchie’s dreamy Keepsake.
• Hot Chip’s euphoric A Bath Full Of Ecstasy.
• Black Midi’s frenetic Schlagenheim.
• Mark Ronson’s star-studded Late Night Feelings.
• Erin Durant’s breezy Islands.
• The Raconteurs’ first album in over a decade Help Us Stranger.
• Willie Nelson’s brilliantly titled Ride Me Back Home.
• Titus Andronicus’ Bob Mould-inspired An Obelisk.
• Holy Ghost’s blissed-out Work.
• Absolutely Free’s three song Geneva Freeport EP.