All photos: Jane Briggs
Live performances are one of the most lucid windows into someone’s heart and soul. Tons of choreography, pretension and rehearsed spontaneity suggest an egomaniacal fiend. A stripped down acoustic set suggests the performer is intimately associated with his/her craft, material and audience.
In the case of True Womanhood, I see their youthful naivete on display on multiple fronts. The borderline giddy exuberance with which bassist Melissa Beattie visibly anticipates each song in the set is probably the most endearing and genuine. Their overwrought theatrics of deconstruction and brooding are a bit excessive and make it immediately apparent they have been weaned, like myself, on the public catharsis, self-destruction and breakdown so prevalent in the 90s heyday of modern rock. The giants of grunge and garage are channeled, and in this fashion, True Womanhood wears their influences lovingly on their collective sleeves. This is a natural out-growth of the youthful artist, one still enamored with idols and inspirations and only beginning to find their own voice. They still bear the marks of disbelief at what they are accomplishing and a hint of insecurity with how they portray themselves live, opting more often than not to showcasing tried-and-true rock cliches.
But their youthful melodramatics and over-born airs can be forgiven, as they seem to display few of those insecurities in their music. True Womanhood cut a clear path and have a specific musical vision which they are executing. Their music is a delightful sort of weighty. They deftly traverse musical terrain that is the equivalent of a minefield, even for the most capable and veteran musician: they create, sustain and grow a boldly-flawed variety of beauty, managing to attain the elusive equilibrium between catchy and complex. Vivid atmospherics and bleak moodscapes punctuated with piercing clarity by bittersweet guitar and vocal melodies. Comparisons have run rampant with Sonic Youth, but truthfully, I hear them taking many more cues from Radiohead with darkly-tinged plaintive vocal melodies shone through a foggy lens of skittering drums and wandering textural guitars.
“The Monk”and “A Diviner” are as good of demo tracks as anyone could wish for, both leaving a haunting, lingering touch like a spectre dragging its fingers along on your skin. The mirror of simple ascending bass and descending guitar lines is a great and subtle nuance creating tension along with a sprinkling of effects. They are never in a rush, confident and deliberate in the pacing of building their songs live, as on their recorded output. If you let it, their music can crest and overwhelm you, often with the grandeur of a rising sea.
The one major problem with their music: they are currently mired more often than not in a mid-tempo, melancholic zone not very conducive to a wide range of moods or a dynamic live show. This combined with an audience that may be made weary by their youthful stage antics or impatient by the pacing of their music, could prevent people from investing time in True Womanhood.
But that would be your mistake.
They’ve got plenty of time to explore other musical moods and refine their stage show. For now, you can enjoy good, sometimes excellent, pseudo-macabre brooding of an up-and-coming DC band shying away from the more popular, precious flavors of indie and pop and going down their own path of discovery.
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