Laugh Queens' Debut Album "Bathcolors" Will Have Your Neck Rockin'
By Sean Lee
Despite the album cover’s evocative claustrophobia, Laugh Queens debut album Bathcolors is a refreshing breath of air given alternative music’s penchant for rehashing the same formula.
The band is the passion project of front woman Stephanie D’Arcy, a San Francisco artist who relocated to Los Angeles to attend Cal Arts where she formed the band. Released November 3rd, Bathcolors owes equally to the sludgy guitar playing of grunge rockers MudHoney as well as more modern influences like Alice Glass’ Crystal Castles. The band simultaneously pays tributes to its influences, to whom they are indebted, while reviving grunge in the modern age as snarky, polished, and cleanly executed as today’s modern radio might expect.
To many fanatics, grunge essentially died in 1992 when Nirvana went mainstream with 1992’s Nevermind and cheap thrift store fashion became high art with Marc Jacob’s “Grunge and Glory” photoshoot in Vogue Magazine. It is very easy to find a band these days that lists Nirvana as one of their influences, it’s extremely rare to hear a band that actually is indebted to the Seattle band’s sound.
Album opener “Russian Is a Magenta” layers simple guitar over dark synthesizers as D’Arcy croons through a reverb heavy vocal patch. The song breaks at the halfway mark as the machine sounding drums are replaced with the backing band, switching simultaneously between no wave noise in the tradition of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to more radio friendly segments a la The Paper Kites. The juxtaposition is jarring but is a perfect representation of an album that isn’t rooted in a singular rock tradition.
Songs like “Pardon Me” are more evocative of New York’s post punk scene with the staccato repetition of a singular note reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s song “Maps.” However, unlike the hopeless romantic Karen O (“They won’t love you like I love you”), D’Arcy is not as apologetic. “Get this/ I am not a temptress/ how many contestants/ sleeping on your mattress?” sings the San Franciscan songwriter a snarkier more empowered lyric that is more Kathleen Hanna than Karen O.
Musically, the album drags tempo in the best way possible. Before Nirvana infused high punk energy via Dave Grohl, grunge songs utilized slow tempos to emphasize musical heaviness. In this way the grunge elements of “Bathcolors” is more Alice in Chains than Nirvana. Songs like “Grand C Station” and “The Endeavors of Minute-Huggy” even in their balladry maintain a level of musical heaviness that hasn’t been around since garage rock duo Summer Cannibals burst on the scene in 2013.
Standout track for this listener is “Rasputin” a song that somehow makes the absurdist lyric “Crack and the coco give it to the locos” a menacing threat in line with the rest of the albums indifferent attitude.
Bathcolors escapes the typical clichés of alternative rock simply through its unapologetic delivery. Its influences are worn on the sleeve without any disguise because at the end of the day the songs stand on their own as something wholly new- a notion that fails to register with other bands in the genre.
This piece is by Sean Lee. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leee.