The playful sexual politics and tongue-in-cheek jangle-pop that marked Seattle’s Chastity Belt had has been rendered effectively mute on the band’s third album, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone. Whether or not 2017 is the year of getting serious while the country seems on the verge of downfall could be irrelevant here. But the level of somber studies on emotional development and sincerity in an uncertain era seems too big a coincidence to ignore. Such is, perhaps, where we find the band’s guitarist/vocalist Julia Shapiro, on an album that maintains the melodic parasol of the band’s last record Time to Go Home, even while getting a bit gloomy.
“Different Now” opens the record, and commits single-note guitar lines over a simple bass line, both of which eventually bloom to a sparkling roil, while Shapiro pleads, “You’re hard on yourself/you can’t always be right/You should take some time to figure out your life.” Whether the line is directed at herself or elsewhere isn’t clear, though if the remainder of the record is considered, her ruminations here are nebulous anthems for anyone close enough or bummed enough to listen.
The album’s sunniest moment comes on its second track “Caught in a Lie,” a song title that does little to rally confidence for greener pastures. Despite its “gotcha” sentiments and hopeless lines like, “What good does truth bring?/Is this what you want?/Is this who you want me to be?” the song’s lilting arc and “woo-hoo” background vocal flourishes almost trick you into thinking it’s a positive tune when your guard is down. To the rescue comes the punky punch of “This Time of Night,” the musical standout of Time Alone. In cascading lines that crest on waves of Paisley Underground guitars, the song vacillates between the chunky barre chord assault of the song’s athletic verse and its textured dream-pop chorus, where Shapiro sings “Pull the sheets over my eyes” in a clear attempt to hide from whatever has been haunting her psyche.
“Stuck” features drummer Gretchen Grimm on vocals in a song she penned herself, finding a strong lyrical balance between Shapiro’s typically gutsy interpersonal vendettas and something more closely resembling heavy-lidded hope. On “Complain,” Shapiro downshifts again into a moody brooder that sounds like a Sonic Youth ca. Goo castaway, all discordant and bleak with the cheerless chorus “I’m not okay/I want to complain.” Later in the song, Shapiro establishes firmly the depths to which her social confessions might spelunk, singing, “I should quit my job and get a life/Fuck Friday nights/But I wanna be in the scene/and this comforting routine.”
The whole album is awash in swaths of watery shimmer, as if recorded underwater. “It’s Obvious” benefits from this liquid sheen, unfurling in tides of shoegaze-y pop that would sound depressing if it weren’t so strangely vibrant. Shapiro’s lazily delivered vocals swirl in and around dreamy melodic guitar lines with the haze of a Mazzy Star ballad. The clouds part ways just enough on “What the Hell” to invite a shuffling offer of optimism, albeit with all the enthusiasm of a snail slithering across a blade of grass. The gloomy vibes belie Chastity Belt’s intimate endearments as the wryly funny group who wrote “Cool Slut” on their last record, an irony that is doubly lost considering the vulnerability evident on Time Alone.
As Shapiro herself admits during the slow-building title-track, “I wanna be sincere.” On the band’s new album, her lonely psychoses are exposed and have taken center stage for an unapologetically dire, wistful listen. Now that those demons are out in the open, it will be interesting to see where the spotlight shines next on the band.