Fashion Club: album scrutiny
As post-punk band Moaning toured Europe in 2018, bassist Pascal Stevenson created electronic demos in the back of the van. Stevenson had tried several times to write her own songs, but until she got sober, she had trouble putting them into words. After the tour, as she pulled back what she calls the “veil of intoxication”, she finally began to write lyrics that were both introspective and politically outward. Drawing on her personal experience with a newfound lucidity, she eventually built 10 songs on soft synths. She then polished them with drummer Nik Soelter and fellow LA SASAMI musician, surrounding her lyrics with a grandiose new wave production. After two years of delay, his first album Meticulous examination finally arrives from LA Felte’s electronic label. The music is reminiscent of 80s gothic rock, but at the heart of the album is just intellectual boredom.
Stevenson’s lyrics are blunt and even accusatory, cutting through washes of closed drums and vocal delay to address those who fail to live the values they preach. “Can you justify your cruelty to the world? Are you terrified of your own words? she asks on the scathing chorus of the opening “Pantomime”. There’s a long line of satirical songs that poke fun at fake activists, like Phil Ochs’ 1966 track “Love me I’m a liberalbut Stevenson confronts his subject with sincere desperation. The slyly optimistic “Chapelle” focuses on the guilt and frustration of a failed confrontation that ends in a moment of acquiescence. As difficult as it may be to speak her truth, self-denial seems even worse when she asks, “When this is over, who will even know?”
Stevenson treats the album’s more personal themes with the same intensity and insight, applying this search for honesty in others to herself. “Are you listening?” she repeats on lead single “Feign for Love,” hunched over the shoegaze, as her voice dissolves into a deliberately mushy mix. Singing over mixed verses, she spends “Dependency” debating the value of “blaming bad thoughts on my addiction” or leaving the numbness of addiction behind. Instead of being heartbreaking or serious, it comes across as a frank internal conflict over whether self-expression is worth it or whether it’s better to let the pain be repressed.
Meticulous examination is a defiant act of self-expression, but musically it still feels like Stevenson is pulling punches. With the exception of the closer “All in Time”, she sings in a dry baritone throughout, ironically obscuring the power of her lyrics. Sometimes his brooding melodies clash squarely with the thin drum machines of “Phantom English” or the gleaming guitars of “Failure.” And even though this album seems deep inside, there was another layer to pull out: Long after the record ended, Stevenson came to terms with her gender identity as a trans woman, giving more weight to the themes of the album of repression and self-deception. This personal revelation recontextualizes the frustration at the heart of Meticulous examination: tirelessly searching for the truth and finding only more to discover.
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