One quick gaze at the collage-y confusion of Vancouver, BC, Sissy Heathens’ self-titled EP Sissy Heathens reveals a number of disparate, seemingly disconnected elements. A white-shirt-black-tie 1950s square plays the strongman, bench pressing a giggling baby from between the cadaverous jaws of a sabertooth tiger, smoking a cigarette, stationed comfortably in the palm of a white silk glove. What do all of these images mean, and what do they have to do with one another? Is this simply Tumblr-core Internet surrealism, or is this imagery intentional, revealing hidden depths to Sissy Heathens' layered, shoegaze-meets-punk attack?
The Merriam - Webster dictionary defines "sissy" as "a boy who is weak or who likes things that girls usually like," or "a person who is weak and fearful." "Heathens" offers up the synonyms, "strange", or “uncivilized.” It would seem the Vancouver trio is commenting on things that appear as strange, uncivilized, or outside of mainstream culture, dishing up a counter-definition of what it means to be "effeminate" or "like things that girls usually like." It's as if they're saying, "Look, we rock hard, but we're not afraid to get poetic."
Sonically, it's an attractive mix that's totally in-line with today's complicated existence. People who like only one genre are few and far between, and extreme, aggressive genres like punk and metal are being fleshed out and adorned with surreal, subjective styles like shoegaze, ambient, or drone, as can be heard in styles like Blackgaze and the increasingly poppy punk rock, often adorned in soft pastel colors. Take, for instance, album opener "New Year,” which starts off like a stripped-down, bluesy hardcore track, only to slowly segue into a storm of echoes, with lightning flashes of psychedelic guitar soloing. Or the charming, chiming post-rock of "Trust Me” which is open-ended and subjective enough to conjure all manner of complicated, conflicted emotions.
Sissy Heathens does a fantastic job of blending sheer force and aggression with heart and emotions without ever becoming emo, overindulgent or being too bombastic. Their guitar rock onslaught is properly pummeling, while Patrick Kinch's vocals are raw and real enough to reveal some real heart and heat. All in all, it would seem that Sissy Heathens are repping for the underdogs, asking people to challenge their assumptions of what these two, often derogatory words, connote. It's a case of Lenny Bruce-ism, as when the '50s stand-up challenged the decency laws, using ever foul-mouthed slur in the dictionary, to remove their mystical power.
It's a righteous goal, but perhaps not handled in the most tactful of ways. It could, to the wrong person, be interpreted like using the "N-word" in your band name, to undermine its power. There might have been a time and a place for that, and perhaps people in those communities might use the term in that way, but for the rest of us, that time is not now. And while there have been communities that have sprung up, reclaiming the term "Sissy" and its connotations, most of those communities still seem to adhere to rigid gender binaries and roles. While it's up to you, what you're into and what you do with it, much of the "sissification" of the world still seems to be indicative of real harm and trauma. Who knows, maybe the Vancouver trio are self-identified sissies and are repping for their pink, frilly ways. In which case, more power to you and I mean no offense. To each their own, as long as its consensual and no one gets hurt. But if you're speaking for other groups and demographics, one must be VERY careful not to say the wrong thing, or it will come off VERY wrong.
But all of that is beside the point to Sissy Heathens music, which is consistently excellent. Those who've been waiting for punk/hardcore to reclaim its adventurous and experimental edge, you're going to be in heaven, listening to this short, very sweet EP.
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