RIYL: The White Stripes, Bleached, Drenge, The Black Keys, Hinds, Nirvana
I am going out to play, and you don’t really have no say
Rock is back with Deap Vally. Not that rock ever left — but rock that’s unafraid of social critique is back in full force in the group’s latest album, Femejism (released 9/16/16 via Nevado Music). Made up of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards, the LA duo’s sophomore album is even more than just that — it’s a veritably unafraid explosion of unadulterated rock.
As Deap Vally is a rock band who actively labels themselves as feminists, it’s important to note that Deap Vally is not “just feminist rock.” It’s incredibly irritating that “feminist,” a label meant to liberate, is one used to keep Deap Vally in a box (i.e. “They’re just feminist rock and that’s why they’re successful” or “All feminist rockers do is sing about feminism”). The use of “feminist” as a derogatory label is not a reflection on the band or on feminism itself — both of which champion a woman being able to do whatever she wants.
The use of “feminist” as a label that would write off a band’s work — and having to take several paragraphs to explain that it being used as such is wrong — speaks more to the fact that mainstream rock n’ roll, which throughout its history has prided itself on standing up to authority and challenging norms, can be hypocritically narrow-minded in its attempts to include (and even respect) women and people of color. So rather than use feminist as a modifier, let’s actually focus on it as a descriptor, rather than a reductive, singular label (i.e. “Deap Vally’s rock is gritty, loud, feminist, and unapologetic”). And to borrow the band’s own words directed to those who would criticize both their stance on women’s rights and their prowess as rockers (as stated in “Smile More”):
And yes, I am a feminist
But that isn’t why I started doing this
Now that everyone’s on the same page regarding women and rock, it’s safe to say that Femejism is the LA duo’s kick back—at trolls, at sexism, and at a variety of other things. The album’s title, a subtle double entendre playing on the word “feminism” itself, is just a hint of what’s inside. Unabashed lyrics layered over heavy guitar and burst-your-ears-out drums show Troy and Edwards doing what rock was meant to do all along—challenge the status quo.
“Royal Jelly” is the kind of screaming kickoff tune rock n’ roll albums are meant to start with. The heavy drums and riffs (slightly reminiscent of T. Rex banger “Children of the Revolution”) place Deap Vally staunchly, unapologetically in center of the rock cabinet. “Royal Jelly” effectively turns the subject of the hustle to make it into a slammer with a chorus that Metallica would envy and properly acquaints listeners with just who Deap Vally are.
If you wanna be queen bee
then you better make honey
If you wanna be Miss Thing
then you better start hustling
More so, “Royal Jelly” welcomes listeners along for Femejism’s ride—but gives a full tongue-in-cheek disclaimer with Troy’s line: “Going straight to the top but you might queasy/All that glitters, you see, may not be gold but it sure is shiny.”
Watch: “Royal Jelly” – Deap Vally
Deap Vally abruptly (but not messily) switches topics in “Julian,” which (sorta) apologizes to that poor sap that it’s just not working out with. Troy’s vocals border on playful, repeating “I’m so sorry, Julian,” in a sorry-not-sorry, kind of sorry, reverb-soaked goodbye.
“Gonnawanna” is a declaration of freedom and a tongue-in-cheek criticism of our social-media-oriented society—especially when it comes down to the over-analyzing likes and wondering what about us is wrong (i.e. did I look fat in that crop top? Was it too revealing? Wait—why do I care?). The accompanying music video further challenges viewers to rock who they are and make no apologies. And better than that, Femejism’s message is summed up in one line of Troy’s rapid-fire vocals:
I am going out to play
and you don’t really have no say
Watch: “Gonnawanna” – Deap Vally
You’re going to want to skip “Little Baby Beauty Queen” if you’re a pageant mom, because you’re next on Deap Vally’s list. This is Troy and Edwards at their hardest—Edwards’ drumming, coupled with Troy’s riffs that would make Jimmy Page weep with joy and shredding shriek of “Beauty queen,” are at the top of their game in this slammer.
“Smile More ”is Femejism’s standout and most bombastic single. Which begs the question, why did it take so long for this song to be written? If a central part of rock music is about telling people to “step off” (to borrow a phrase from Dewey Finn in School of Rock), then there ought to be more songs telling that guy at the bar where to shove his opinions. Male rock stars don’t get generally get told what to do or how to behave–so why is it different for women in the same industry? “Smile More” is at once a dismissal of the validity of his (both The Man and any guy who tells you to wear/do something “because it makes you look prettier/more ladylike, etc.”) one-sided opinions, an affirmation of self, and a declaration for all women, everywhere to stand up. Deap Vally has effectively screamed don’t tell me what to do at the world–and by doing thus, has kept the spirit of rock n’ roll more alive than many of their male counterparts have in the past year.
I don’t wanna be a reflection
I don’t need your direction
Watch: “Smile More” – Deap Vally
“Critic” is difficult to write about because any attempt to analyze the song makes the writer automatically included. Troy and Edwards’ feedback-filled blast of critics and trolls who hide behind computers, lashing out with no fear of retribution, includes people (like me) who have chosen to pick apart their music. The acoustics, with their hint of acoustic grunge, turn the song into something incredibly personal and sharpens the critique. Very few choose to judge their critics, and Deap Vally does so incredibly well—the song is fully-fledged without being overpowering.
The next three songs feature Deap Vally diving more into experimentation with ideas of genre. “Post Funk” shows Deap Vally exploring genre a bit more. The catchy genre dissonance is a pleasant departure and just adds more to the hotly-debated what even is genre anyway question in music today. “Two Seat Bike” sees Deap Vally dirtying up doo-wop surf tunes and declaring sexual freedom. It’s like ‘50’s surf rock’s evil cousin, filled with critique, self-awareness, and slamming guitar riffs—complete with shooby-dooby-dos. “Bubble Baby” has enough grunge appeal to get Hole’s approval, while the later “Grunge Bond” actively nods to its influences.
“Teenage Queen” probes society’s obsession with making and keeping women young and pretty, to the point of fetishization—a sort of sequel to “Little Baby Beauty Queen.” There’s more than a spoonful of irony throughout, and especially as Troy sings “35 years of age, how can you possibly stay the same?” While lambasting the idea of beauty as worth, Deap Vally also happens to throw in some ribbed, aimed-at-millennials lyrics to get our attention:
I’m gonna live forever
Snapchat, sex, and cigarettes
Life is but a dream for a teenage queen
“Turn It Off”’s relatability lies in its simplicity. Lyrics like “I get high just seeing him” and “I don’t wanna feel this, turn it off” is real-talk reality, and ups the we’ve-all-been-there factor.
As the album closer, “Heart Is an Animal,” is not only the most bluesy tune on the album, but also it shows Troy and Edwards doing bluesy rock that The Black Keys themselves would approve of. The comparisons are warranted, but Deap Vally breaks out a bit more — Troy gives her voice over wholly in the chorus, displaying her range as she sings “Lord knows that the heart is an animal.”
Deap Vally’s Femejism blows open the limiting label “feminist rock” and goes much further — it gets back to the original rebellious spirit of rock n’ roll that’s lacking in a lot of today’s rock. Unabashed, loud, real, and unapologetic, Femejism engages listeners in a social critique (that also highlights the state of rock itself) and, through doing such, gets back to what rock is all about.
cover photo: Deap Vally © Koury Angelo
Femejism – Deap Vally
:: Deap Vally 2016 Tour Dates ::
11.03 — House of Blues, Houston
11.05 — The Masquerade, Atlanta
11.07 — Fillmore, Philadelphia
11.08 — Terminal 5, New York
11.11 — House of Blues Silver Springs, Washington, DC
11.12 — House of Blues, Boston