Contempt by Couch Slut

Release date: July 28, 2017
Label: Gilead Media

There’s been a long history of transgressive art emanating from New York, with early cinematic forays by Nick Zedd and a then underground coterie of actors crossing boundaries which aimed to shock and violate basic morals. Whether this could indeed be called art, or simply an act of easy exploitation really depends on an individuals point of view, although this usually ends with a debate on what art is. The trouble with transgression being that it can so easily be abused.

Within the music scene it becomes somewhat more murkier and for every moment of GG Allin performing feats of defecation, you also (arguably) have the sublimity of Patti Smith’s poetic verses. You then get what could possibly be seen as gratuitous transgression as any number of extreme metal acts attempt to turn what is really B-movie schlock horror into something more. The meaning gets lost along the way and it’s no wonder that the music world satisfied itself with making transgressive music videos.

Now we have Couch Slut, and beyond that immediate shock of a name, lies a band who actually may understand how to make music ultimately transgressive. Arriving on the scene with an album cover that may have pushed the boundaries of acceptance a bit too far, underneath lay a band who’s music raged and seared itself into your life. This was music that sounded as if it came from the depths of inner torment as vocalist Megan Osztrosits subverted any immediate concerns about the graphic and lyrical content. It was an act of ultimate transgression, held aloft by a band who were actually very good at what they do.

Following on from My Life As A Woman comes new album Contempt, and whilst this may not have such a subjective cover (although it is pulled from the same artist), the music remains just as caustic. With a higher production value in place, and a new home on Gilead Media you may suspect them of easing up, but a quick burst of opening song ‘Funeral Dyke’ will allay any fears. In fact, if anything, the cleaner sound makes for a more disturbing listen, with their penchant for odd instrumentation and moments of beautiful clarity remaining. Megan’s remarkable voice remains and with subjects such as anger, depression and drug abuse providing thematic concerns, that feeling that you are being exposed to something rather “real” remains.

The unwavering brutality of the music becomes a kind of calm after a while as songs such as ‘Company Picnic With Dust Off’ and ‘Folk Song’ first rattle your nerves, then become a repetitious “bliss”. It’s a feeling of being exposed to something quite personal and unforgiving, yet seeing yourself in there. This becomes cathartic in some respects, although you would certainly not feel like sharing it with an uninitiated listener. To them they may see the surface view of a band aiming to shock, once you listen you start to understand the transgressive part of the band. Even their band name pokes at your moral values, yet on hearing Megan’s screams and wails you would be wrong to consider this as anything other than a complete reversal of your initial ideals. It’s almost a bleaker version of Poly Styrene raging about bondage. It’s punk, transgressive art and New York all rolled into one.

Although the music owes a lot to the hardcore scene and early black metal, there remains a lineage going back to the early endeavours of Sonic Youth which allow for the album to open up into unexpected paths. A skronk of a saxophone or tuba is allayed by melodic interludes where even Megan’s vocals take an unusually melodic turn. They are moments with alleviate the almost constant chainsaw rush of Kevin Wunderlich’s guitar and allow for the band to actually expand upon their artistic universe. These moments come to a head during a song such as ‘Won’t Come’ who’s never ending coda threatens, but never reaches its peak. It’s a point of frustration at not reaching an answer that overarches everything about Contempt. Beneath the anger and rage lies a personal quest to find answers to these very real issues. The point being there isn’t really any, although art may help you find your journey going some way. Such is the sad state of life that many issues remain unanswered and with that we get the primal rage of Megan and co.

Contempt is an album which will be a tough listen for many and initial shocks may be hard to overcome. By letting the album do its work you may find yourself opening up to the transgression on offer. It’s uncomfortable at times, and whether it is truly cathartic remains questionable. What it does do is face head on many questions and issues and throws them back at you in a different light. It’s very much a personal album, both for the band and for the individual listener and becomes the kind of “secret” album that is talked about in reverential tones by those who have succumbed. It’s the kind of album which is destined to become something of an underground classic, and deservedly so. This is the sound of transgressive art in all its full glory, and album that takes your moral ideas and spits them right back at you. Brutal, beautiful and stunning.

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