"HOW CURRENT feminist work honors older feminist work is with its progress and new paths," rock critic Jessica Hopper once wrote, calling on young feminist punks to cruise beyond the precedent set for them by bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. "BLAZE THE FUCK PAST US."
Though Hopper was talking about punk specifically, her words apply more generally to music now than perhaps she could have imagined. From recent, widely thinkpieced, come-to-feminist-Jesus moments from seemingly every Top 40 pop star to the second coming of Sleater-Kinney, there's no shortage of artists currently embracing ideas originally propagated by feminist music movements like riot grrrl. Feminism has become trendy, and that's maybe for the best.
But while I prefer Beyoncé and Taylor Swift's recent declarations of feminism to the '90s co-option of riot grrrl sentiment by acts like the Spice Girls, the most interesting feminist-informed bands around are still the ones carrying the punk mantle Hopper describes, as they quietly (or not so quietly) blaze past what came before. And I can't think of a better example than Seattle's Chastity Belt, who gave us the jokey, party-drunk surf-rock delight that is 2013's No Regerts, with its laidback songs about pretentious tattoos and waking up to find you've turned into a giant vagina overnight. Their latest release, Time to Go Home, continues in that punky vein, but it's darker. If No Regerts was a weed! pussy! beer! party in 10 tracks, Time to Go Home is the solo walk home at 2 am, when you're congratulating yourself for leaving before things stopped being fun, but also you're alone, and maybe it's cold out, and you're definitely getting a hangover in a few hours.
"I feel like it's more ma-toor," says Julia Shapiro, Chastity Belt's vocalist and one of its two guitar players, when reached by phone en route to the band's tour stop in Boston. "Just because half the songs on our first record we wrote when we were in college, and that was when we were still not at all serious about being a band. We were like, this is fun. We didn't even expect to record them when we were writing them.
"These songs are all written in Seattle to a much different audience," she continues. "We were like, 'Oh, we're actually gonna be a real band now.'"
On Time to Go Home, Chastity Belt sound exactly as contemporary as four musicians still relatively fresh out of college should, with nods to forebears like Bikini Kill in their sex-positive lyrics, and associated acts like Hardly Art labelmate Tacocat in their ebullient, DGAF delivery. They're also friends—Chastity Belt was formed when Shapiro joined forces with guitarist Lydia Lund, bassist Annie Truscott, and drummer Gretchen Grimm while they were undergrads at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
Their new album, which was recorded over five days in a deconsecrated church in the sleepy town of Anacortes, Washington, is technically much better than their first album, without losing any of No Regerts' forthright lyrics or unself-conscious weirdness. On Time to Go Home, walks of shame become just walks ("Ladies, it's okay to be slutty," Shapiro sings on "Cool Slut"), and a line from Sheila Heti's novel How Should a Person Be? is repurposed as chorus material ("He was just another man, trying to teach me something," goes the buzzy "Drone").
The album's a natural development for a band that's risen up from a community of riot grrrl-adjacent bands in Seattle. "There are so many women in bands in Seattle—so many that I forget that that's like a weird thing," says Shapiro. "It doesn't seem like a weird thing, and then we'll play a show outside of Seattle and then all of the sudden it's, like, crazy that we're all girls."
Are people weird about it? "Oh yeah, totally, people think it's crazy. We get called a 'girl band' all the time, too. Yeah, it's the worst. 'Girl band.' I mean, in almost every review we're called a 'girl band.'" So here's Shapiro's preferred alternative, for any reviewers paying attention: "Just maybe a band," she says, laughing. "A band of four friends who happen to be women."