A couple months ago I was walking in Pioneer Square when a man wearing a pink polo shirt and too much hair gel demanded a hug. He approached me with his arms outstretched and when I ducked out of the way, heart pounding, he snapped back and yelled, “You’d be hotter if you smiled!”
I was so flabbergasted that I smiled wide, showing as many teeth as I could, and told him with my loudest voice to go fuck himself. He and his buddies laughed. As soon as I rounded a corner, I cried. I felt drained, empowered, violated, righteous and scared—and not for the first time. I didn’t feel like picking a fight; I felt like screaming and then taking a nap. It occurred to me as my pulse slowed that Chastity Belt’s second album Time to Go Home is this experience put to music.
On the surface TTGH is breezy and easy, with fluid guitar lines floating politely through each song, occasionally breaking to riot before coming back to form. Julia Shapiro delivers lyrics like “Ladies it’s okay to be/ it’s ok to be slutty,” almost convincing me that this new Chastity Belt is the same brash group of women they were on their debut No Regerts, joyfully banging away about partying and fucking and failing.
No Regerts asked important questions: Why does being at the red hot center of a scene feel so cold? Why can the feeling of skin on skin feel so far away? It was up close, situational, zoomed in. The band asked questions of everyone else and didn’t consider what was happening within themselves. It was all delicious lightness and anger jacked up by post-adolescent discovery. Time to Go Home is what they’ve dug up and discovered, the weight of the bones they dragged away.
There’s a weariness to Shapiro’s voice now. Even on the rowdiest track, “The Thing,” the scream that accompanies “No one trusts anyone, everyone’s infected!” sounds like the last punch before the adrenaline wears off and you’re left wondering what you’re fighting for. It’s an album that has grown up despite its best efforts. It’s the story of the law of gravity when everything falls down, where “We’re on the floor/all my friends and me/but I still want more colors blurring,” as Shapiro sings on “On the Floor.” It uses Gretchen Grimm’s slacker-brusque high-hats and Lydia Lund’s slick, dreamy Dick Dale to cast a sparkling haze over shadowy songs.
The album speaks to both sides of the unhealthy dichotomy in the female narrative without choosing either. Typically, either you’re like the women in Girls and fuck and drink and screw up without remorse or fear; or you toe the party line and calm down and grow up and get a mortgage and a husband. You are wild or you are tired. Little room is left to ask questions and change direction, to reclaim your sexuality in whatever way you choose. But there’s no universal truth in womanhood. With this album, Chastity Belt enters a new phase without diminishing the credibility of those who occupy different ones.
Art created by women has always had to fight for its right to subtlety and evolution. Maybe that’s why Time to Go Home sounds so easygoing. It’s all these questions wrapped in a tight smile. It hides the rough edges under a glassy surface, so prettily presented that it dares you to see it for what it is. But it does not beg.
It’s the end of the night for Chastity Belt, and this album is their directionless walk toward whatever is next. For me it’s become a trusted companion, a friend to stumble along next to. And when someone tells us to smile, the anger that we once buried in the small questions will guide us. We’ll turn to the world that confronts us, smile with our teeth and hold out a middle finger like a torch on the way home.