“There’s no saving, just had to get the fuck out,” sings Jessica Boudreaux on Can’t Tell Me No’s title track. The story goes that Summer Cannibals’ Can’t Tell Me No, their first LP since 2016, was written after the original album—finished and ready for release for over a year—was entirely scrapped in order for frontwoman Jessica Boudreaux to prevent an abuser from profiting from their work. What followed were 14-hour days creating what became the band’s first entirely self-engineered and produced album, recorded and mixed in Boudreaux’s home studio. The result is an album that balances the brave with the raw and takes no shit.
The lead single, “False Anthem,” is a call to arms for the listeners to examine who they make excuses for in their own lives. “Hate who they are, say you hate what they do / But you love all the things that they promise you,” she snarls. She knows cancel culture is easy for Max Landis and Harvey Weinstein, but less so when it’s a whisper in our own social circles, the abuse we allow because, hey, that person never abused me.
Boudreaux has a voice like a pop star gone bad, alternately babyish and tender, blisteringly angry and world-weary. Songs like “Staring At the Sun” find her using a distortion filter to a lost, distancing effect, while “Behave” sinks her vocals back in the mix. Meanwhile, the guitars—played by Boudreaux and Cassie Blum—have a thrift-store aesthetic: a Sleater-Kinney inheritance, but not the same fast-fashion riff everyone else shows up at school with. Devon Shirley’s drums and Ethan Butman’s bass provide the thick concrete floor to build upon.
Each song is better than the last, building to a peak at “One of Many,” complete with a pop wash over the guitar breaks before returning to a rougher rock song. The coda takes on a melody that drips with longing, letting each performer take their turn—Shirley’s drums get a shiver-good fill at the end—before breaking away like a wave on the beach. The chorus of “Hesitation” takes a similarly melodic turn in the chorus before grinding back to the garage rock verses.
Summer Cannibals’ songs are a little more melodic than fellow punk feminists The Coathangers, but their lyrics join a long and honorable tradition of women raising their voices to tackle the patriarchy. Over and over, Boudreaux abstractly lays out the abuse she’s suffered and the steps she’s taking to break free: “I’m done making excuses for you,” she sneers on “Like I Used To.” On “Start Breaking,” she calls out false allies who use the cause as an excuse for bad behavior, singing, “You’re just another man who cries injustice all the time / While pushing people down, you keep complaining about your life.” It’s confessional without being gossipy, easily applicable to the listener’s own life without ever feeling like one specific woman’s biography.
There’s an art to being angry. There’s a trick to taking revenge. We may never hear that locked-away Summer Cannibals’ album, but what we have in its place is an album that might just inspire the girl who hears it to, as “Into Gold” goes, “Pull myself out of the darkness and into gold.”