Mannequin Pussy : Perfect

turnstile glow on review

If you’ve listened to alternative music over the past few years, you’re probably aware of the Sad Girl Indie trope. The label has been applied—lovingly, but often with a hint of condescension—to a number of talented musicians who favor confessional lyrics and sorrowful, earnest vocal delivery. Artists like Lucy Dacus have spoken up against this characterization, arguing that it flattens the full complexity of their work. Indeed, there’s often a deeper well of feeling within people and songs that are surface-level sad. Do some digging, and you can nearly always find grief, shame, and rage simmering beneath depression—though especially for women artists, these topics aren’t as easy to commodify.

Perhaps that’s why Mannequin Pussy, a powerful indie-punk group from Philadelphia, haven’t yet seen the same kind of commercial success that an artist like Phoebe Bridgers has. Since their inception in the early 2010s, they’ve been set apart by heavy guitars, bold lyrics, and no shortage of screaming—not to mention their spam-filter-unsafe name. But the way their music blends anger and frustration with their close emotional cousins—insecurity, longing, and yes, sadness—has earned the band critical admiration and a loyal fan base. Their latest EP, Perfect, picks up where their acclaimed 2019 album Patience left off, attempting to make sense of the maelstrom that was 2020. Across five sharply contrasting tracks, the band drift in and out of their comfort zone, serving up a mixture of catharsis and experimentation that ultimately leaves the listener wanting more.

The EP opens with “Control,” a near-flawless song that features all the hallmarks of their best songs. As in “Drunk II,” a standout single from Patience, lead singer Missy Dabice shifts deftly between a soft, vulnerable croon and an all-out shriek. “I’m in control/That’s what I tell myself when all the walls around me close in,” Dabice begins, accompanied by a solitary, mournful guitar riff. But before the song sinks fully into Sad Girl territory, she grabs her loneliness by the horns, insisting over and over: “I’m not waiting for anyone.” It’s not fully convincing, but that doesn’t matter—as slamming guitars lend the song structure and her vocals build towards a magnificent howl, it’s her desperation that resonates most, her attempt (and ultimate failure) to remain steady. Over the past year, most of us had to repeat small, false mantras to survive: I’m okay, I can get used to this, I’m fine. Though “Control” was written pre-pandemic, it captures the restlessness and unhinged longing of quarantine with uncanny prescience. 

the entire EP is suffused with the trauma of isolation, the pent-up impact of enduring a horrific year alone. Mannequin Pussy spent months apart before cautiously reuniting to record Perfect in August of 2020, supervised by seasoned producer Will Yip. Two of the songs, “Control” and “Darling,” were written ahead of time. But the others sprung straight from the creative alchemy of an in-person reunion after months apart. “Pigs is Pigs,” a thunderous two minutes of pure punk, is the most impressive of these impromptu tracks– and perhaps the band’s most political song yet. Bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford takes over lead vocals, conveying the terror of being Black amidst the twin threats of police brutality and a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted people of color. “Dealing with my feelings/And I’m dealing from my home/Oh God, don’t wanna die alone,” he sings, his voice dueling admirably with weighty guitars. He’s an excellent punk singer and an arresting lyricist; though Dabice contributed a few lines, he wrote most of “Pigs is Pigs.” Overall, the track heralds some exciting new possibilities for the band, both in terms of political expression and Regisford’s expanded role. 

The remaining songs on Perfect are not quite as captivating as “Control” and “Pigs is Pigs,” but they each shine in their own right. The title track is a fun, furious, minute-and-a-half blitz that lampoons the fool’s errand of seeming flawless on social media. In contrast, “To Lose You” is more conventional. Dabice’s vocals are raw and moving as ever, but certain structural and melodic elements feel a bit muted and familiar—arguably reminiscent of Turnover, a respectable but decidedly less exciting band that has also worked with Yip. “Darling,” the final track, is more of a surprise. It’s much slower and more subdued than most of Mannequin Pussy’s discography, and involves no screaming whatsoever. However, there’s a cryptic edge to the song that differentiates it from the average addition to a breakup playlist. The refrain, “Darling, I will always defend you,” is certainly what you’d expect from a resigned, hollowed-out Sad Girl, miserably dedicated to a disappointing lover. But the melody has an ominous, unresolved lilt to it, almost like a funeral dirge. “How brave of you to walk away from my greatness,” Dabice muses, summoning a burst of bitter humor. You get the sense that as she sings, she’s gathering her strength—and that if a funeral does end up happening, it probably won’t be hers. 

This blend of defiance and vulnerability, bolstered by spot-on musical execution, is what makes Mannequin Pussy such an electrifying band. That’s not to say that the Julien Bakers and Mitskis of the world don’t also tread the strange shoreline where rage meets crashing, oceanic hopelessness—there’s nuance to even the weepiest tracks by artists of such talent and emotional intelligence. But Mannequin Pussy holds nothing back. When they dive into the emotional wreck, they surface every rusted component, leaving the ugliest parts of experience unpolished: pride, co-dependence, jealousy, fury. And they’re refreshingly uninterested in making themselves more palatable, as evidenced by their political messaging and their name. In a world that seems hell-bent on making certain people feel small, Perfect is a galvanizing listen. Like many EPs, it feels incomplete, but heralds promising growth for a band that already stands tall.


Label: Epitaph

Year: 2021


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