Disclaimer

This review was written and published prior to the revelations which emerged about the band Thursday (11th May, 2017) evening. In the wake of the allegations, the reviewer and The 405 feels it'd be inappropriate to leave the review as it was originally written. These revelations are awful, and that's the end of it. If you've ever been a victim of sexual abuse, please know that there are people out there who will do everything they can to listen and help, such as The Survivors Trust.

The Original Review

What does it mean to be a rock band? For the best part of fifty years it’s meant leather jackets and prostitutes, selling out football stadiums, and anodyne rise-and-fall fables. It’s meant straight white men and rudimentary binaries and rigid conservatism. It’s meant headlines and ticket lines and powdery white lines of drinking, shagging, rivalries, controversies, betrayals, comebacks, legacies, failures; in processed repetition. What it’s not meant is rock’n’roll; carefree, expressionistic abandon and self-exploration through the white-knuckle intoxication of guitar music. 2017 is different. The index of indie rock today is championed by Diet Cig, Vagabon, Jay Som, the Crutchfield sisters, Mitski, Hop Along, Perfume Genius; music which is protean, androgynous, boundless, overtly and subversively political, and irrepressibly original and true-to-self. The week after Kasabian waddled through the messiah complex chapter of the banality they so effortlessly typify – self-promoting their latest release as the advent of guitar music’s resurgence – the new wave unveils perhaps its most edifying, philanthropic, and frankly greatest triumph so far. Welcome to Pageant.

PWR BTTM inhabit a near literal storm of personality. From the outset ‘Silly’ discharges a ‘Thunderstruck’-echoing bolt of guitar scarcely moderated by Ben Hopkins’ restlessness; “I cannot sit still/ Never have and never will.” If you’ve been beleaguered by enough misfortune to have missed 2015’s brilliantly, unabashedly iconoclastic Ugly Cherries, ‘Silly’ is the gateway drug. The crux is that PWR BTTM are the personification of the most buoyant, most enriching party you’ll ever attend. Aural glitter cannons pop in uncensored joy, while Ben and Liv Bruce’s voices drift and glide – almost caught on gusts of sheer elation – as they swap lead vocal and lead guitar responsibility in perfect concord (with the non-guitar blazer assuming drum duty); after all, their congress is egalitarian. When Liv’s drawl fades in the dying seconds of ‘Styrofoam’ you leave not only elated but enlightened.

Each song probes the zeitgeist with wit, warmth and pinpoint accuracy. They’re viral tweets and popular truisms – feel-good BuzzFeed lists and cute emergencies with nuance – bookended by riffs so zealously shredded you’d think they were evidence of election collusion. ‘Answer My Text’ is by my money the best rock song of 2017 so far; catchy like a Summer cold, quotable as anything – “[I] waited a couple hours, like the magazines all told me/ Then I sent you some emojis/ And a funny joke from that TV show you said that you like” – and flaunting a spiralling coda. This is a bittersweet commentary of nascent crushes in a world of immediacy, disguised as situational comedy; and it’s a dichotomy literally everyone of the internet generation can sympathise with. ‘Answer My Text’ deepmines our self-deprecation, our anxiety, and the refurbished language of romance as JPGs of party poppers, clinking beers, and faeces with eyes (move over Byron, Shelley and Donne, your era is over). It’s funny, touching, and absolutely spot on; descriptions equally germane for the riotous ‘New Trick’ – shout out to Rob Hakimian of this parish for his ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ parallel – and ‘Now Now’’s brazenly life-affirmative mandate; “I’m going to send myself to my room/ For beating myself up.” By turns the reinforcement of assenting identity becomes political, an all-inclusive directive about self-love and open-mindedness.

It’s important to distinguish – though not segregate – their political dialect from their pop culture-draped disposition. For as much fun as Pageant is, it robustly signals the everyday adversity queer and non-binary people face; the covert parochialism, and the physical and emotional abuse. While I’m wary of trivialising the specificities of their hardship, many of the subjugations they illustrate are applicable for marginalised groups. It’s not only the party where everyone’s invited, but the therapy too. This is indeed a mandate for dignity, but also mandatory laceration of a bigoted society. Theirs is a reserved intelligence, empathetic and charitable, but indefatigably fierce. ‘Big Beautiful Day’ is the empowering anthem, the definitive eclipse of shade; “Curse every one of you who tells me that I cannot be who I want.” From bar-hopping fuckboys to the pathologically chauvinistic dinosaurs signing arcane legislation in hand-wringing glee, every hostile faction who obstructs the positivistic revolution will be steamrolled.

When Pageant turns inward, when the turgid sludge of patriarchy overbears and the duo purge their exasperations and the need for the purpled mark of solemn deliberation becomes indispensable, it devastates. The liberation of self-love is complex. Ben’s memorable, instantly epochal line from ‘LOL’ – “when you are queer you are always 19” – extends the bubbling effort of trying to be recognised and respected for yourself, and just having to laugh at such exhausting futility. Meanwhile Liv deconstructs the arbitrariness of gender norms on the breathtaking ‘Sissy’, “Who would I be if they never had taken my body/ Drawn a blue box around it/ And put a toy gun in my hand?” There’s an armada of throbbing choruses and hooks and pop references, but this is a tremendously vital diary and programme implanted in the fabric of a mechanically tremendous rock record.

Tolerance conquers all though, even the brutalising ‘Big Beautiful Day’ avows that “within those men there are boys who never had the choice[…] Jesus Christ let’s help them.” It’s indicting the abstract – the systemic ignorance and structural prejudice – while embracing a really quite humble ideal that we’re all naturally kind, just bruised along the way. These are songs of comfort, of solidarity, of protest, and most especially of celebration; some swerve towards reflection, some towards bombast, but all pulsate with a benevolence, generosity, and defiant individuality, that crutches your faith in people as fundamentally good. And if that wasn’t enough; it totally, positively, categorically rocks harder than anything else released this year.

To memeify Pageant – as I’m sure the band will appreciate – this is the album we both need and deserve right now. We’re better than we think we are, and PWR BTTM, the very essence of implacable bliss, are better than all the rest. Come join the party, it’s a big fucking beautiful day.