Album of the Week: Pill – Convenience

best albums of 2016 Pill

Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant.”

My sister has to read Brave New World this summer for school. She goes to a rigorous, formulaic, borderline utopian version of high school, not too different from my own alma mater. An ironic pairing in itself, our high schools and London A.F. 632 share a disconcerting number of similarities, specifically within each community’s systematic hierarchy and societal pawns. A strict dress code, prescribed behavior and highly structured schedules are all standard procedure. Like living in any stringent environment, there are bound to be a handful of valiant mavericks willing to question authority. But alas, high school is only four years, and detention sucks.

On their debut record, Pill combines present-day problems with the not-too distant sphere of corrupt influence; a sphere sublimated by domineering hands selectively feeding their own social and fiscal inferiors. Where old problems are fixed, new ones arise. Pill’s ability to leap from issue to issue takes lyrical poise and musical understanding. The band’s collective ability to cover a wide range of instruments with comparatively few numbers portrays each member’s musical expertise. Frontwoman Veronica Torres takes on both vocals and bass, while the multi-purposing Jonathan Campolo and Benjamin Gaffe play three and four instruments, respectively. Gaffe’s spastic sax follows the free-jazz doctrine of improvisation, naturally implementing the genre’s experimental ad-lib techniques of Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker into Pill’s freak punk procedure.

Pill’s formula follows the jagged aggression of Nots’ self-described “weird punk,” with a shade of ESG’s no wave noir and the glaring political snark of DC’s Priests. The NYC quartet’s debut buckles and twists through moments of post-punk fervor, scattered with keen sociopolitical commentary criticizing the emergence of a loathsome wave of marginalization in New York City. Acoustically driven “Speaking Up” is sung from the point-of-view of a particularly tormenting co-worker, whose prods are blatant criticisms of the misogynistic culture of certain workplaces. Torres’ lyrics mock gender-favoring office-space lechery, as she sings in bully-like fashion, “You’re gonna get fired/for speaking up.” Her words are hurriedly speak-sung, recorded with a notable sense of sonic and physical distance in comparison to Convenience’s other tracks, which simultaneously reflects the “distance” Torres creates while assuming the voice of a sexual perpetrator.

Exceptional moments of Convenience are frequent, as highlight tracks deliver some of the most spirited progressive punk to come out of NYC in recent years. The acidic “100% Cute” sears through two fiery minutes of Torres’ shrills and yelps delivered over a manically descending bass and psychedelically warped effects. Riot grrrl ideals find Pill’s frontwoman at the forefront of feminism, as she proves herself to be Liz Phair’s rightful heir, becoming the latter’s sexualized successor on “Fetish Queen,” while closer “Medicine” ends Convenience on a more musically optimistic approach to Pill’s relatively unnerving and panicky formula. The latter track is the most accessible piece on Convenience, both musically and lyrically. “Medicine” is an excellent end to a wildly eccentric release, sure to have listeners hitting repeat after performing a double take at the album’s conclusion.

Convenience’s distinct eeriness establishes the album’s thematic ideas in a logical order, developing a specific sonic atmosphere across the sequence of the tracklisting. Torres’ frantic and vehement vocals cease during key instrumental numbers scattered throughout the album. Each song of pause not only contributes to the album’s underlying aura, but also become fully enjoyable, standalone tracks. The aforementioned “100% Cute” is followed by the palate-cleansing “Sex With Santa,” which provides a subdued transition through a menacing bass over rhythmically trickling drum lines.

Pill’s message addresses a broad collection of injustices through intimate courses of action. By attending to social and political exploitations head-on, the band is capable of tackling contemporary issues with a revitalizing sense of confidence. Not only is Pill’s lyrical ability truly commendable, but their musical exploration with dissonance, experimentation, and improvisation through a post-punk lens finds their sound particularly difficult to pin down. A commentary on the world amiss, conveniently contained within Pill’s debut.

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