Chastity Belt are known for songs like “IDC” and “Pussy Weed Beer”; through two records of youthful, girlcore angst, they’ve proved nowhere near as wholesome or chaste as their namesake. On their new record, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, though, the urgency and fearlessness of those records has given way to maturity, that difficult-to-master emotion of one-time hellraisers. But where else are you supposed to go after “Pussy Weed Beer”?
In the press release, the Washington band asked that I Used To Spend be described as “v chill,” which is hard to disagree with. It flows more smoothly than previous releases; they sound like adults who’ve switched to aromatic coffee-drinking after a lifetime of sugar binges. We get I-guess-this-is-growing-up song titles like “Caught in a Lie” and “Different Now,” in which Julia Shapiro sings about having to take responsibility for your actions. Contrary to the harsher and sometimes wonkier rock arrangements on their previous albums, the running thread throughout this record is a blend of shiny electric guitar hooks, background wah-guitars with just a little fuzz, and drums that are kept light and rounded. There’s less bottom-end in I Used To Spend; your feet aren’t always firmly planted on the concrete, which is appropriate, considering the confusion and uncertainty that comes with meandering into maturity.
If all the think pieces in the world can’t accurately diagnose what’s wrong with the millennials, consider the German word Weltschmerz, which describes a general state of melancholy and pain imposed by the world. The album is loaded with Weltschmerz, as on “This Time of Night” when Julia Shapiro sings, in succession: “I just fall on my face when I’m trying to have fun”; “a couple of bros said some shit I choose to ignore”; “I should quit my job and get a life / fuck Friday nights.” On “Something Else,” Shapiro laments “Now the walls are caving in / I see and feel everything in waves / the air is too thick / it’s making me sick” in a delicate register, as if the world has simply worn her down. But there are moments of catharsis: “5am” is a scream in the night, flooded with distortion, amp fuzz and screeching guitars. The title song “I Used To Spend” has a similarly welcome, noisy arrangement. Those two appear at the end, after all the weariness has been felt.
Musically, I Used To Spend may feel like it never really lands because of its unlikely chord patterns, but it sounds clear as day. Chastity Belt’s lo-fi aesthetic hasn’t disappeared, but each instrument breathes in the mix, so they occasionally sound like the long-lost cousin of Real Estate. The daydream is interrupted by the timbre of Shapiro’s voice, which keeps the songs rooted firmly in an angsty tradition. But still, there’s something whimsical about the new record that’s hard to pinpoint. The disparity between the lyrics and the sounds is a little disorienting at first, but progresses into something remarkably natural, and invigorating. It’s both the fight and the acknowledgement that when you lose, you’d better wise up. “What The Hell,” a song toward the end of the record, describes it best: “I had a lot of thoughts today / I felt okay / I can convince myself of anything / so what the hell.”