Much of indie-rock’s best warriors are women, and they’re finally starting to get the recognition they deserve.
“The impending doom of adulthood” was the phrase that dominated the press line for Diet Cig. The very idea of adulthood is an amorphous concept with many multiple questions attached: How are you going to pay rent? Were will you live? What are you going to do with that English degree your parents rolled their eyes at? For a punk band like Diet Cig, there’s another, perhaps more important layer to all of this: How will you stand out and rise up in a sexist industry?
Formed in 2014, the New York duo gained buzz the following year thanks to their buzzy and catchy debut EP, Over Easy. Swear I’m Good at This features the band’s effort to stretch out their power-pop-punk into a cohesive whole without losing the energy that propelled them into the spotlight in the first place. And much of that energy comes from some delightful Pavement-esque fuzz scattered all over the album. There’s a crackling electricity to the first half, plugging into the ideas of late-‘80s and early-‘90s alt-rock. Noah Bowman’s drums jump and bounce rather than punish and punch and Alex Luciano’s guitar always seems playful.
This approach matches Luciano’s voice rather well. Her lyrical modes are super direct, remembering small details to build to her larger points. She and Bowman have been outspoken critics of misogyny in indie music, an overlooked problem in the genre. Swear I’m Good at This balances middle fingers to dude-bros and general anxiety about being a 20-something with the gaping void of 30 fast approaching. She’s got an impressive range as well, going from blurted screams to wounded, dejected passages that sound a bit like Frankie Cosmos. But no matter the section of noise, Luciano’s voice remains beautiful and ready to fill up a room, soaring over her sugary guitar.
The best examples of Luciano’s extremes come in Swear I’m Good at This’s first half. “Bite Back” has a massive bridge that calls down thunderheads in the form of Luciano’s voice layered over and over to the point of clipping the entire song. Here, in tandem with the guitar, she shows a fantastic knack for hyper-catchy lines blistering through the speakers. It’s all summery with a hint of melancholy when she turns up the volume. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the bite-sized “Apricots” begins with Luciano going full hopeless romantic over acoustic guitar. “I want to kiss you in the middle of a party/ I want to make a scene,” she sings. It’s a lovely detour from the fuzzed-out glory of the album’s other tracks.
Unfortunately, things get stale after the halfway point. Outside of “Bath Bomb” exploding like the title implies, there’s not much variety on these tracks. “Blob Zombie,” which drops the album’s title, is probably the breaking point where Swear I’m Good of This shows itself to have run out of steam. “Road Trip” takes a hypothetical drive to Texas (“we’ll eat tacos everyday for breakfast”), but, much like Luciano’s imaginary vacation, it meanders too much to be memorable. Thankfully, closing track “Tummy Ache” brings back the emotional punch through fuzz, the guitar here as sweet as it is ear-piercing.
Even with much of the music critic world salivating over Carseat Headrest, much of indie-rock’s best warriors are women, and they’re finally starting to get the recognition they deserve. Swear I’m Good at This places Diet Cig along strong contemporaries like Frankie Cosmos, Japanese Breakfast and Mitski in many ways, but doesn’t quite land the band in the upper echelons of this particular pantheon. More experimentation is likely needed, though Luciano and Bowman certainly have the talent to take them to the top. “It’s hard to be a punk in a skirt,” shouts Luciano, acknowledging the work that’s gone before and how much more there is to do.