Review by Rose Eden
Sometimes in order to play with the men, you have to play like a man. Or even act like a man. You definitely have to think like a man, meaning - as an individual who identifies as female you always have to be a few steps ahead of the game, reading in between the lines the best you can as you go. There’s also a lot of irony to be experienced when you’re a girl and working within an industry (like music) because it’s a rare occurrence really, when you can just be yourself. With all the stereotypes, typecasting, and tokenization that happens before one can even set foot upon stage, it’s easy to wonder if true success (however one may define that term) is destined for those who are truly talented, or is it merely a survival of the fittest? Perhaps a bit of both.
On the other hand, when you’re a dude in the music industry the assorted limitations are also there regarding how you identify in general. Despite the wide net of acceptance the greater punk, hardcore, metal, etc. communities strive to cast, depending on where you come from and what you’re trying to achieve, portraying yourself as anything other than cis and straight can be problematic for your career. Even now in 2022, there is still a very narrow path for what is considered acceptable in terms of things like your clothes, look, image, and what you stand for in general.
“But this is punk!” - one might think. It’s a human issue though, the sort that supersedes niche interest groups. It’s actually everywhere in punk, this sort of gatekeeping where you can’t “just'' play what you want, wear what you want, or be who you are. The collective gaslight is that you can - but in reality, it’s far more complex and nuanced than that. There is always something or someone to cater to in the music industry it seems, and punk is no exception. Seems dire? There is a way around it.
The Dreaded Laramie are a curiosity to me: a pan southern quartet (residing between TN and KY) whose gender bending sound is marbled with sickly sweet, hyper feminine vocals encapsulated by indie rock tinged boppy pogo punk and sprinkled with sudden moments of very macho displays of musicianship: dueling guitars, synchronized power ballad style riffs, “soft” post hardcore breakdowns, all neatly tied together with that ultra melodic, 90’s dream poppy sound sitting side saddle with the fuzzy, distorted influence of what’s quite obviously Rivers Cuomo & co. ensconcing their offerings.
Call them dream pop, or dreamy pop punk, or femme pop, or the self proclaimed “crunch pop” they call their sound, their new EP Everything A Girl Could Ask For has a appealing vintage sounding disposition to it and was just released as a co venture between California labels Wiretap Records and Sell The Heart Records.
The 3 song release is a display of polarities: Is it a woman doing her own take on masculine music, or her male identified bandmates playing through their own lens of what feminine music should sound like? I’m happy to report that it seems to be a transpiration of both - almost a caricature of what the chicken fried 4 piece conceptualizes hyper masculine music to be by feminizing it with reckless abandon.
With a voice that reminds me of eponymous acts of the 90’s and 00’s like The Cardigans, Dragonette, and solo artists Yelle and Little Boots, the astonishingly talented lead singer MC Cunningham leads the band through 3 songs of what I’d personally like to call “Power Bottom Power Pop” on their new EP, with each song delivering a social commentary about gender issues, the music scene, and the duplicity of trying to move through life as a woman, constantly having to prove yourself over and over again in every space you show up to.
“I wear pearls and I sing in soprano / To sound feminine / The way I walk and talk is masculine / so that you listen /Are you listening?”
“One identity from a thousand assembled into metonyms / Testosterone and estrogen /So take my habits and string them up however you like / Call me delicate and aggressive and kind / But don’t forget I live here under the masks”
Cunningham sings in the opening track “Archipelago”, a song about how you have to act in a “masculine” way to be seen or heard at all as a woman trying to be taken seriously and additionally - is the tradeoff of not really being able to be yourself even worth it to impress a bunch of men? Are we supposed to be satisfied with free meals and other little proverbial pacifying pats on the head to satiate us when what we are actually negotiating away is the authenticity of our work and therefore ourselves?
The irony is, the more we convince ourselves to compromise, the less authentic our work becomes, and the less ourselves we feel. The less ourselves we feel, the more watered down and bullshit the music we make becomes… and don’t think for one second that folks (especially the fans) can’t see it. So fuck it.
The Dreaded Laramies released an amusing music video alongside the second track, “Tell Me” a song about the male gaslighting we dodge on a daily basis because well, there’s no “right” or “good” way to ever show up as a woman in the world today.
“Tell me that I am a monster / Tell me I’m cruel and you’re cultured / Make me think I’m underwater / Hysterical and you’re calmer / Tell me I’m weak and you’re stronger / Tell me my behavior disorder / Make me your personal performer”
And that video, in fact portrays an amusing throwback retro mixed gender track and field competition where, despite copious amounts of training and being the clear winner of the race, Cunningham is foiled at the last minute by her jealous male opponent (an onscreen role bass player Drew Swisher seemed born ready to comically portray) who cheats his way to the finish line first by sabotaging her. Poppy, catchy, and full of mellow, fuzzy and lighthearted distortion, the lead single on the EP stands out as its strongest and most impactful track.
The final track, “Where Do The Hardcore Kids Go?” is full of the above-mentioned dueling guitars, played in synch (and probably in some sort of hair metal power stance) by Cunningham and guitarist Zach Anderson onstage. For a song with heavy indie rock influences throughout, there is also an unignorable nod to glam, early arena metal and all the flashy solos meant to mostly be played on top of car hoods (the kinds that have T tops) in perfect tandem by the 2 Dreaded Laramie guitarists. Lyrically, the tune shuffles through a number of possibilities regarding where all the scene kids you used to know eventually ended up, but what it really more quietly seems to be saying is: “Gee for a girl who no one takes seriously I sure do seem to be the last one standing after all these years”.
With such an in-your face macho sort of musicianship contrasting the delicate lyrical style played out in an uber flamboyant way - is this band a proverbial enigma with a stigma? Absolutely. But The Dreaded Laramie pull off a gender bending 3 song EP full of questions that challenge cultural binaries that make me think of some of the incredible queercore bands I grew up listening to like Pansy Division, Limp Wrist, and eventually Le Tigre, Gravytrain, G.L.O.S.S. etc. Don’t get me wrong though, the sound is completely different from any of the above mentioned bands, as they’re more Weezer than Huggy Bear by far. After I first heard Everything A Girl Could Ask For I honestly wished there were more tracks for me to hear after it ended, so there’s an addictive quality to be picked up on there for sure. The Dreaded Laramie have pulled off a 3 song EP of power bottom power pop fully loaded with ethereal distortion, candy coated vocals, and just enough polarized juxtaposition to keep you wanting more.
Review by Rose Eden