“When I was sixteen/ I dated a boy with my own name/ It was weird in the back of his truck/ Moaning my own name/ While trying to fuck.”
If ever an opening verse proved symptomatic of what was to come. Diet Cig’s debut album Swear I’m Good At This is a reclamation of female sexual agency, a physical mandate for equality, a gauntlet-throwing promise for world domination, and the most fun I’ve had with a punk album this year.
Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman first announced their pedigree for roof-disintegrating anthemica with 2015 EPs Over Easy and Sleep Talk; their proclivity for shoulder-dancing riffs, addictive witticisms, and hangover truths, telegraphed on ‘Dinner Date’ and cult favourite ‘Harvard’. Even among the bloated throng of lo-fi, hook-hubbed indie rock, the songs instantly sparkled.
Swear I’m Good At This evinces they’ve got riffs and choruses for days. It’s a substantiation of this aesthetic, with subdued flourishes, including the noodling breakdown of ‘Bite Back’, inspires Bowman’s drumming wrath just as much as the listener’s boogying fealty. When you further fold in the exuberant synth support boiling under ‘Maid Of The Mist’ and the slight reverb of ‘Blob Zombie’, then the peripheral flavourings noticeably refine the textures. It’s noticeable that their production arsenal has caught up with the vitality of their songwriting. In a couplet, you’ll twirl from improvised jumpalong to losing your voice howling insatiably catchy, unifying repartee. When Luciano vows to be the “best at this” on ‘Blob Zombie’, you take her at her word. This is a mission statement.
Its sexual currency is in love, lust, friendship, and the yawning, ambiguous space which bonds them; because the boundaries between love, lust and friendship are frequently indiscernible. Whenever Luciano sings about lovelustfriendships she flashes insecurity but remains completely in control; on ‘Apricots’ she comments in a stream "I wanna kiss you in the middle of a party[…]I want everyone to know that you’re with me,” designating the exhilaration, the hesitancy, the disquiet, of coping with an immediate crush, while ‘Sixteen’ explains the importance of formative lustloves as an induction into the infinitude of obscurities and muddles which presage love life. ‘Maid Of The Mist’ – my favourite cut – addresses Luciano’s “broken hearted” exes assertively but compassionately, acknowledging their hurt but pre-empting any predilection for retrofitting meaning or overanalysis. There’s no conspiracy or melodrama: I did fancy you and thought you were cool, but now I don’t want to see you anymore romantically. It’s that simple, and also that complex. This is a simple complexity she revisits on ‘I Don’t Know Her’, which debates the economy of relationship labelling; "I don't want you to feel nostalgic for something that never happened." The point is break-ups are just as convoluted, messy, and even at times opaque, as relationships. Her larger point is the advancement and equating of female sexuality: that women love sex as much as men; that they’re incontrovertibly equal in maintaining and shaping relationships both during and after their time; and – most emphatically – that consent is everything; “I don’t need a man to hold my hand/ But that’s just something you’ll never understand.”
Even when Luciano sounds at her most exasperated with the unkillable mosquito of hypermasculinity and penis entitlement, she never foregoes irony or authority. ‘Link In Bio’ obviously drains from the Sisyphean nightmare of expressing yourself online as a female artist, where egg mansplaining is a social norm, and not a modern art exhibit. She sneers against the deluded banalities imploring female propriety; “They say ‘speak your mind but not too loud’/ And ‘You should love yourself, but don’t be too proud,’” before climaxing rapturously with “I know/ What I want/ So please fuck off!” Allowing yourself the faculty of admitting vulnerability and anxiety is to own these fears and cultivate them as assets. To remain upbeat and kindly and so damn funny during this introspective wrestling match is true supremacy. It’s about being marginalised but a good person and deserving better than the shit thrown at you, and once you value and respect your own eccentricity, it becomes a form of power; inculcating deeper meaning to their ‘power’ chords.
Swear triumphantly signals you can have party-poppers of fun while tackling the most pertinent and solemn concerns; like their equally wonderful spirit-punks PWR BTTM, they illustrate that shameless buoyancy can be lethally weaponised to conquer hook-nosed, ear-haired, dandruffed prejudice. You can snarl about rights and bills and policy, but you can’t renege this positivity in selfhood. Diet Cig and what they represent are indefatigable.
Let ‘Tummy Ache’’s blaring refrain of “My stomach hurts/ Because it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt” be our unruly mantra for 2017. Fuck the patriarchy; love punk music.