If I’m perfectly honest, part of me wants to stop writing about Rook. At this point it feels weird, like I’m a cultist who can’t stop proselytising about her music. But she is prodigious, as is Girls Rituals’ Devi McCallion.
Their collaborative project, Black Dresses, released two albums in 2018. Besides these they both worked on various other efforts, without signs of exhaustion or creative drought. Separately, together or with others they continually produce inspirational, challenging, and darkly entertaining work.
Case in point…Thank You. Upfront, I should warn you that this album won’t be for everyone. I mean, no album is for everyone; but generally I believe that there’s always something everyone can latch onto. There’s that one song, or moment in a song, that everyone can agree on.
And maybe you will find those points in Thank You too. But as someone who talks about stuff like this a lot, I recognise how confrontational and disorientating it can be. Thank You lays bare how fucked up the world is. People suffer, they are tested to destruction, abused and yet (for better or worse) keep on keeping on.
This all sounds obvious, but what Black Dresses do better than almost anyone is immerse you in how this feels. Here you’ll find open rib cages, and hands holding your face close to a somehow still beating heart.
Loving this imagery? This album is very inspirational.
As introductions go, “Thank U” is one hell of a primer. Clanging metal and glitch-tones engage, as a hellish sounding production line spools up. Lyrically, this song’s message comes through loud and clear: Devi and Rook have to be grateful for living in ‘such a fucked up world.’ At least ‘the sick only have each other;’ which provides some kind of comfort I guess.
Black Dresses don’t fuck around, as the shift into “Dogshit” proves. In my notes I described its beat as “stabby.” This song jabs at you, though Rook’s softer vocals contrast perfectly against this and Devi’s more delirious, barely restrained sound. It also features a signature move of Black Dresses – references to the act of production in real time.
I first heard this on “Thoughts and Prayers,” a killer track from 2018’s WASTEISOLATION. Here Devi asks ‘can you turn it up a bit?’ ‘Mm, like that?’ Rook responds. It may seem trivial, but moments like this add real depth to proceedings. There’s a peek behind the curtain; we’re closer to the bones.
That “Thru the Void” was the leading cut is understandable. Though it’s still a skull-cracker; it’s one of the more melodic tracks on the album. That’s not a criticism of every song around it, but it does provide some variety, without sacrificing anything thematically. And on an aesthetic level, it just sounds fantastic.
“Baby Steps” runs in a similar vein. The melody, the instrumentation…it all seems so much sunnier than the rest of Thank You, like some kind of chip-tune lullaby. However it continually feels like the rug is going to be pulled out from under you. It invokes a genuine (and deliciously sinister) sense of suspense.
Thank You provides an brilliantly realised, anarchic and cathartic ride. Despite the weight of its topics and the impact of its sound, misery and disgust are not concepts I can associate it with. Admiration and awe however, are two that I can.