I don’t know if I can call this a “review” because really what I want to do is gush about Ugly Cherries. The debut album from Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins (aka PWR BTTM) is chock full of introspective songs about being lonely, feeling different, and trying to figure yourself out. And if there’s one thing I love in this world, it’s introspective rock songs delivered by a queer-identified band with a panache for facial glitter and rocking the fuck out.
The album opens with “Short-Lived Nightmare,” which clocks in at just over a minute long. The lilting vocals and fuzzy electric guitar melt together to establish the vibe of the album—lots of attention to lyrics and moments of swelling rock ‘n’ roll madness. “Dairy Queen” is all about things to come. PWR BTTM roll through different potential scenarios broken up between the repetition of the line, “but right now, I’m in the shower.” It’s an apt “getting ready” anthem, but also it feels like a little self-care reminder. Yes, many interesting and unpredictable things could happen tonight, but right now I have to do this very basic act of care. This first, and then I can worry about whatever comes next.
“I Wanna Boi” is a singles ad in song form, complete with an email address and instructions to “send a picture or two.” In a similar vein of playfulness is “All The Boys,” in which they sing, “All the boys say they don’t love me, but I know they’re lying!” These songs certainly have jovial aspects to them—there’s a repeated “Bitch, I might be” in the latter—and they sound fun and lighthearted, but there is an undertone of loneliness that grounds them in the themes of Ugly Cherries and like, the universal themes of personhood (i.e. fear of being unwanted). “House In Virginia” has a dreamy quality and begins more subdued than a lot of other tracks. “Hey there, baby, why are you so handsome, gaymazing, and nice//Makes me want to stay up all night.” After a slow build, the song crashes into gorgeous crescendos of the promise, “I’ll stay up all night.” It’s an incredibly vulnerable and sincere song.
“Ugly Cherries” is a battle between two parts of a whole. “Serving Goffman” follows right after with the opening lines, “I used my favorite pen to draw outside the lines until the lines got blurry.” These two songs seem to be the most self-reflective about identity. But instead of becoming weighty, melancholic tracks (which totally have merit), PWR BTTM brings these feelings of insecurity and doubt into the realm of garage rock. They make them something to which you can dance. They don’t simply invite you to feel these emotions in a shoe-gazer way, but to have a physical reaction to them. Move with them.
PWR BTTM is very very important. Not just because they make kickass tunes, but because they celebrate alternative ways of existing. Discussions of queer identities and the experiences related to them are too often relegated to tumblr or the classroom, and they certainly don’t dominate indie music spaces. But we need to see all different kinds of identities on stage. We need to hear music with lyrics like, “My girl gets scared, can’t take him anywhere.” We need artists who use the term “gaymazing.” We need to be able to see and celebrate and honor these lived experiences that challenge heteronormative ways of being so we can make musical spaces more inclusive, and also, on a grander scale, make the world a more inclusive place. “I wanna put the whole world in drag//but I’m starting to realize it’s already like that.” PWR BTTM opens up space for these kinds of conversations in a way that is real and fun and vital.
P.S. You can catch PWR BTTM with Palehound and Mitski at the Bishop on November 17.