Written by: Vincent Nijenhuis.
PWR BTTM have been the queer indie darlings ever since their debut album, Ugly Cherries, came out earlier this year. Is it too early to call it an iconic queer album? Probably. Can we call it at least an important and necessary stepping stone among getting some representation of queer and non-binary people in the world of heteronormative indie music? Definitely.
The duo met at Bard College when Liv Bruce thought they snuck into a party, which ended up just being a few friends hanging out and met Ben Hopkins. A little while of knowing, and annoying each other, they eventually recorded their first EP, a delightfully rough, garage-punk mess of an EP. On Ugly Cherries, the band developed their messy, jagged sound into a distorted guitar crushing against our ears like velvet. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but it’s the perfect oversized sweater of an album for any queer looking for a mirror of themselves in anyone.
In a world where glam rock is now more focused on pretension, and glitter is an excuse for an alter ego, PWR BTTM feels like a fresh dollop of ‘90s nostalgia without the overtones of make-believe hypermasculinity, or contrived androgyny for the sake of appearing avant-garde. There is no facetiousness behind Ben Hopkins putting Martha Stewart craft glitter on their face or Liv Bruce blatantly confessing, “I wanna a boy who isn’t anything like me” on the song “I Wanna Boi.” It would be easy for PWR BTTM to write a cliché album to appeal to the tragic queer trope, but PWR BTTM never feels the need to shove their pain to the forefront of their album to prove to us that they are suffering. They simply peel off the scab and let the blood speak for itself on songs like “West Texas” and “Ugly Cherries.” Ben Hopkins’s guitar solos on both tracks feels as cathartic as Courtney Love’s wailing on Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This which is ironic considering that the song “1994” feels like it could have come out that same exact year with its distortion on the guitar on the track crushing itself into a smooth inviting melody. It’s a surprisingly soothing song, despite being the only song on the album that dwells on nihilistic hopelessness. The rest of the album is unexpectedly optimistic. On “C U Around,” Liv Bruce knows one day they will see an old lover without thinking about the pain and agony they have caused each other. It’s not spiteful; like the rest of the album, it’s honest, melancholy, but surprisingly sweet at its core.
It would be easy for a band like PWR BTTM to fall into the cliché trap of cynicism, but they are smarter than that. PWR BTTM doesn’t sugarcoat their experiences, or even dare try to hide from them: they are simply telling us about them. That’s why they have developed such a devoted following in such a short amount of time. They are the perfect outlet for young queers who aren’t struggling with their identity, but rather struggling with people seeing their identity. It’s a band where the members are queer and non-binary, but don’t seem to put that much emphasis on the fact. They write lyrics about being queer as nothing more than simply a natural part of their lives, which is radical in its own right. It is never a gimmick, but rather an honest form of representation. Going to their shows, you get the sense that no one in the audience is confused about their gender or sexuality, but rather, the world around them is confused at how to react to it. These are people, myself included in that camp, who are just simply looking to be acknowledged, and embraced by a world that won’t even concede we exist. Their honesty makes us feel seen, recognized, and acknowledged for the first time in our lives. On Ugly Cherries, PWR BTTM announces itself as the band that acknowledges that the others exist.
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