Pity Sex

It’s a different world under the White Hot Moon: familiar but warping around the edges, at once thick with layers of swooning guitar and lightened by melodies as fine and sharp as cut glass, earnest enough to be the soundtrack of your most private, cinematic moments but with a sense of playfulness to keep it all from ever being too heavy to carry.

Ann Arbor’s Pity Sex build this world inch by inch on White Hot Moon, their second album. The group, formed in 2011 by childhood friends and lifelong collaborators Sean St. Charles and Brennan Greaves, came together explicitly to try its hand at writing pop songs. St. Charles and Greaves were putting their hardcore band to rest, enlisting Britty Drake and Brandan Pierce to round out Pity Sex’s line-up. Now, the band is using the foundation of 2013’s celebrated Feast of Love as the framework for something bigger, stronger, and altogether more monumental. Coming off of tours with Ceremony, Eskimeaux, and Colleen Green—including a run in Australia—the band dove into the studio with Feast of Love producer Will Yip to harness that momentum into an album to showcase Pity Sex’s growth.

And it shows. Guitarists Drake and Greaves spin huge webs of sound, anchored in shoegaze but branching off in a dozen directions, from fuzzed-out power-pop (“Bonhomie”) to shimmering balladry (“Dandelion”) and back again, while co-lyricist/drummer St. Charles and bassist Pierce lock into step with floor-shaking low-end and subtly counterintuitive rhythms. Drake brings an immediacy to her intimate, fearlessly personal songs—check the quietly devastating revelation of a recent loss in the opening moments of “Plum”—guided by her airy, hypnotic vocals. Meanwhile, Greaves brings gravity to St. Charles’ more imagistic lyrics, his voice effortlessly seguing from baritone counterpoint for Drake to an evocative, confident croon. Together, as on highlight “What Might Soothe You,” their voices bob and weave around each other in innervating tension before melting into harmony.

It’s these two distinct attitudes toward songwriting that fuel Pity Sex’s creative fires, with Drake and St. Charles not so much competing as complementing one another’s style, a confluence that enriches White Hot Moon and encourages compositional complexity and a shared affinity for pop solidity in equal measure. The record features some of the most directly collaborative songwriting in the band’s career, and that spirit has taken them in exciting directions—often several at once, dipping into different stylistic touchstones while maintaining a constant, grounding sense of emotion throughout. For instance, St. Charles and Drake both offer takes on romantic longing in “Bonhomie” and “Burden You,” respectively, and while St. Charles’ lyrics offer a more metaphorical vision of being hung up on love (“Electric tape for you, / Bound arms and legs for you”), Drake cuts to the quick with a sharp directness (“I want your summer’s salty skin, / Without yours, mine is wearing thin”) that levels the listener in equal measure.

If White Hot Moon wears its ambition on its sleeve, that’s by design: the band looked to wide-screen albums by Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth for inspiration in finding a bigger sound. As St. Charles explains, “We thought a lot about pop conventions and how they work, and we’re purposefully playing around with that.” In other words, when a song like “Bonhomie” takes a sudden shift from lo-fi guitar pop into a fully fledged fists-in-the-air anthem, that’s the band leaning into the stylistic trappings of power-pop, energized by the diving headfirst into the genre while testing how far they can push against its boundaries. By working with familiar sounds and transforming them into fresh creations, Pity Sex makes their judicious experiments more stark in comparison. As St. Charles puts it, “It’s the idea that you can take a mundane life, and it becomes different in a slightly ‘off’ world—like, you spend winter sitting in your room everyday, and the details around you become boring. But in those instances, the smaller peculiarities stand out. The little details become more meaningful.”

But Drake has her own approach to the songs she brings to the band. “I’m not interested in hearing about someone’s mundane day-to-day life,” she says. “Love and relationships—not just romantic relationships, but in general—are things everyone can relate to, and I tend to gravitate towards universal experiences. People are the main inspiration for me.” The result: wherever you visit White Hot Moon, you’ll come away refreshed, revitalized, and ready for Pity Sex to guide you along the rest of the trip.

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