When it gets better. That’s the best part. When the detuned guitars and splashing rhythms and wan politics hit a transcendent point of flow, and I feel a new kind of safety in the angry songs, a makeshift new confidence in a world that ever encroaches on the idea of the individual. Convenience is Brooklyn-based Pill’s debut full-length album, an anxious stir of no-wave, post-punk, noise rock, and moody sax wound tight with an irascible sociopolitical bent. As a debut, this album is unassailable, distinctive new patterns of deconstructed rock buoying a sharply original lyrical voice, a wry analysis of the modern problematic.
Pill proudly, angrily carries on the traditions of New York music, punk rock, no-wave, feminist art rock — take your pick. But what makes Convenience unique and impressive for a debut is how the songs evolve as a singular and critical personality over the record, taking a stylistic and narrative tour through different anxieties and simulated scenes before arriving at a fortifying conclusion, a body with renewed strength. At its head, the bitter, suffocating “60 Sec” splays out identity politics, consumer anxiety, and just general awful feelings too fast for function over a maelstrom of hardcore nonsense, no foothold, no understanding, firing out in all directions grasping for a path that might make sense. As an opener, it’s stilted, awkward, and against itself, not even approaching any big ideas when self-care has to come first. This, however, begins a strange and gradual change with delayed positive effects, a transformation over the course of Convenience that eventually culminates in a rare moment of total clarity on “Medicine.”
I didn’t notice any of this at first, as I was too distracted by the acidic growl of lead singer Veronica Torres. As a lead singer, her voice lands immediately in striking contrast to the softer mix of the band, all punk invective and artful protest with an occasional searing scream. To disperse the growing tension, Benjamin Jaffe balances it out with saxophone, a key pairing alongside the surfy tones of guitarist Jon Campolo and Andrew Spaulding’s driving beat. But behind each one of Torres’s cutting lyrics, there lay a buried optimism, waiting for a lyric to resonate with, in softly inlaid guitar chords or a plaintive sax waiting to emerge, a small feeling that grows as the band finds their footing in steady sequence, leaving the slightest possible opening at the end of the record where some trapped people might get outside their heads for a second.
Both the music and Torres’s lyrics evolve like this over the album, growing and spreading out in style and approach. “Which is True” is introverted and abstract, subtle themes of dominance and cognitive dissonance railing against an extremely unforgiving low rhythm section that seems to end mid-idea. “My Rights” adds a bit of soul, opens up a little of the beat, Torres’s voice exiting the safety of speak-sing a little piece at a time while articulating a more specific and severe line of feminist critique against congressmen who “want to steal all of [her] rights.” “Speaking Up,” meanwhile, takes a detached, sickly grunge sound to a perverse new level of affect, its groaned juvenile chorus and workplace harassment story quickly sketching a cruel and all-too-common power dynamic. Only “J-E-N-O-V-A” (Sephiroth’s mom) ends up feeling like a misstep, taking a startling left turn into droning, industrial disquiet, where a custom noise rig makes a single piercing statement as Torres murmurs out a dark and sticky scenario.
“Sex With Santa” repurposes some vaguely symbolic, jingling bell-like guitars into a vignette of lost innocence, while “Vagabond” cascades rough love down from Torres’s unforgiving shouts of “Foreign body! Turn me on!” that never get as kind and as welcoming as they seem to want to be. Meanwhile, “Love And Other Liquids”’ expands out into a reverent room, a squashed several styles colliding in a collective lounge stage, Torres squaring off with a big revelation in the distance. Everything goes quiet but the sax, for a few seconds, Benjamin Jaffe speaking alone for the first time in a long slow emotive turn, before Torres returns with a piece of modern wisdom: “Olvida estar perdido.”
From here, the counterpoint of “Medicine” begins to make sense in a larger frame of reference. From an initial place of total confusion, this record transforms the outer forces exerted on it into inner strength and resilience, allows it to preempt the contrived, corrupt ways others will try to control it, and cuts them down with experience. No longer in fear of feeling lost or helpless but by embracing it, they deliver a powerful pop bomb that explodes in a perfect unison of groove and lyric: “medicine, take it tomorrow.” I repeat it to myself, and it means many things.