A wise person once said, “Same s**t, different day.” For Ann Arbor’s chronically morose Pity Sex, this day is spent outdoors. On their ’90s-shoegaze-mining debut, 2013’s Feast of Love, the farthest the band would look was to the person next to them — generally a withholding lover (“Drown Me Out,” “Wind Up”). Now, on their sophomore record, White Hot Moon, the doe-eyed foursome widen their lyrical scope, weaving metaphors out of the space beyond their bedrooms’ walls. But proving the point that wherever you go, there you are, even when they go outside, Pity Sex tend to arrive back at the same place.
There appears to have been a tectonic shift in their world between now and 2013, as the noise-pop’s act’s latest contains endless allusions to nature: the colorful shift as trees lose their foliage (the fast-paced “Orange and Red”), sweet summer fruit (the dreamy “Plum”), and temperate early fall weather (the calm “September”). For all of that pastoral imagery, though, singer-guitarists Brennan Greaves and Britty Drake, drummer Sean St. Charles, and bassist Brandan Pierce might as well be watching the seasons shift through a frosted window in an isolated wooded cabin, trapped in a perpetual snowstorm of their own minds.
They still wind up in relationships with people who view the world another way (“You say it’s not worth feelin / And you’re not lacking reasons / I can’t help California dreamin’,” Drake harmonizes on “Red and Orange”). Meanwhile, Greaves is still self-deprecating, this time about being the “king of clichéd songs” on the trudging title track. “I’ve made my peace with the dandelions in my yard / Why can’t you make your peace with me?” Drake exhales in a lackadaisical track called, well, “Dandelion.” Clearly, Pity Sex’s wishful apathy from Feast of Love still exists — they’ve just found new, more poetic ways to express it.
Their instrumental backdrops follow with a like-minded clarity. Taking (at times painfully) obvious cues from Clinton-era forefathers like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, and My Bloody Valentine, Pity Sex buttress their yearning in stocky distortion, spiraling guitar solos, and confident harmonies, always fairly traded between Drake and Greaves, both of whom sing with more poise than ever before. When Drake moans, “I wanna burden you,” you feel genuine empathy for the dumb sucker who’s holding out on her. Much like the one before it, this record is about the illusion of having someone — the act of wanting to care and be cared for.
Never mind that they still haven’t quite figured out the right formula; for all of their renewed gumption, improved production, and flair with the pen, Pity Sex remain limited by their narrow emotional range and over-reliance on their influences. Sonic Youth scanned as more apathetic, but they had a defined vision for infusing art and experimentation into every song, one that showed care and finesse. It’d be nice to hear a few more of those ideas — lyrically and elsewhere — in Pity Sex.