October 3, 2016

LP: Sex Stains - Sex Stains

Sex Stains' debut album is consummate post-punk that's blissfully vindictive.

The weirdness of Sex Stains’ full-length, eponymous debut is in its precision and perfection. Baleful gusts of vindictive polemic are not often so danceable, so mathed together by jigsaw puzzle-piece, fuzzed-out rhythm sections or stitched by seams of jagged guitar hooks. Live, the band takes up every inch of a venue and then some. Co-bandleaders Allison Wolfe and Mecca Vazie Andrews are both ungovernable personalities. They trade recalcitrant, manic shouts and then, interstitially, joke between each other about really having to pee. Andrews, whose background is in dance and choreography, is a constant flurry of movement, and Wolfe, formerly of riot grrrl pioneers Bratmobile and a legion of similarly scrappy rock bands, tirelessly ducks, weaves, and happily screams for the entire set. “I’m studying journalism at USC,” Wolfe tells the crowd at a show at Brooklyn’s Silent Barn. “[guitarist Sharif Dumani] went there too. This is a song about it. It’s called 'USC.'” Wolfe’s dry delivery is enough to make anyone wonder if this entire act is being made up on the spot. Bratmobile was, after all, a patron saint of learn-by-doing punk acts that concocted creaky, gleefully trashy songs in the moment.

However, nothing on Sex Stains feels tossed-off. Every furious two-minute burst of punk is layered with a near-orchestral arrangement of noise and voices, resulting in an experience that often sounds like cassettes of different songs playing together in perfect unison. On tracks such as the vengeful “Sex in the Subway,” where Wolfe sings lead, Andrews’ voice floats around the perimeter, often singing about something completely different. On “Period. Period.” the duo trade off every other word with increasing exasperation; Wolfe’s punctuated refrain including the lines “Please leave me alone… you don’t wanna cramp my style,” before the vocal lines collide in a mess of wordless, harmonic yelling.

The band’s dichotomy – the primordial ecstasy of their punk performance matched with the fussy, post-punk construction of their songs, is heightened by Wolfe’s lyrics which are just as funny and dangerous as they were on Bratmobile’s 1993 breakout Pottymouth. “Who Song Love Song” is a melodic bullet, buoyed by trebly, baseball-organ synths and handclaps, aimed at a boy who expects all women to “ooh and ahh at all you say / what would she know anyway?” Wolfe is still a master at turning poisonous ire – here directed at mansplainers, bad dates, worse friends, and hypocritical punks – into gleeful fun. It’s this venomous abandon that keeps Sex Stains from ever feeling too mature, too sonically refined, or too predictable. It’s impossible to tell when the surf-guitar hook of “Spidersss”, for example, will combust into a dissonant screech accompanied by cries of “at my wit’s end,” or when the reggae-tinged, Slits-influenced “Cutie Pie” will disintegrate into record-skip repetition – the “tantrum” that the lyrics forewarned about. The album’s opener “Countdown to...” is essentially Wolfe’s memoir sped up to a freight-train chug; acidic short stories of being sprayed by the passing cars of rich kids and an especially traumatic anecdote about boxed mac and cheese. Throughout Wolfe’s reverb-doused monologue, Andrews interrupts with a ghostly chorus: “Your golden fine things are my nightmare / I won’t go vacant while you’re on holiday.” It’s at once a promise and a mantra for the rest of the album. While Wolfe and her formidable bandmates may have reached their technical peak, there’s no chance of them losing their irreverent discontent.


Listen to Sex Stains on bandcamp.

Mark Lukenbill is a writer, film + radio producer, and wannabe librarian in Brooklyn, NY.