Deap Vally arrived circa 2012 as a feminist reaction against the male mainsteam of rock music. The duo had hotpants and big hair and big blues-rock tunes, and in 2013 they released their excellent debut album Sistrionix, which spoke from a resoundingly female experience. Gonna Make My Own Money marked them out as independent women in the same vein as Destiny’s Child; while Walk of Shame, which glorified an early morning walk home from a one night stand’s gaff was a bit more sleazy, and necessarily so, so as to prove that female rock musicians can be sleazy too.
Their second album comes with even more sleaze in its title alone – is that just a silly pun, or is it a subtle crack at a male-dominated music world metaphorically spunking all over recordings with big beats and solos? But despite it’s outré name, Femejism is less polemical than Sistrionix. There is a clue to a possible reason for the slight shift in mood in one of the lyrics to Smile More: ‘Yes, I am a feminist / But that isn’t why I started doing this.’ That’s a pretty big hint that Deap Vally is not supposed to be a vehicle for feminist statements. This is a band first and foremost; it just so happens that it’s a band comprised of feminist women, who accordingly write songs which are sometimes about the experience of being feminist women.
But while there are signs that Deap Vally are striving to go beyond the straightforward two-piece rock template of Sistrionix, the dip in overt power is not confined to the lyrics. There are some big tracks here, with crunching guitars and pounding drums – for instance, the aforementioned Smile More, and Royal Jelly – but some of the other songs are less striking.
There are moments where Femejism nods towards new directions. Forays towards noise rock and shoegaze are largely successful: Gonnawanna is slightly reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, with its staccato riffs, waves of tremolo, and complex drumming; and on Teenage Queen vocalist Lindsey Troy sometimes sounds rather like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon as she drawls about skinny pretty girls and TV over a slow, heavy groove. And the rumbling guitar tone on the excellently titled Grunge Band sounds like something up and coming purveyors of noise Girl Band might come out with.
Other songs take more of a pop direction. Turn It Off is highly melodic with a big sing-along chorus, while Post Funk incorporates spiky guitar, mathy drumming from Julie Edwards and breathy vocals that recall Warpaint.
Ironically, the weakest track of the bunch is the one called Critic, in which Deap Vally rail against the ease with which anyone can adopt the mantle of a reviewer, and bloggers can spew invective out into the internet. “It’s easy to be a fucking hater,” Troy sings: a fair point, but one that would have been better made had the song been something stronger than the dirge it is. Maybe it’s intended as a sarcastic joke intended to provoke critical ire; even if that is the case, it doesn’t really work.
Femejism does stand up as an album, with Deap Vally’s strident attitude holding the songs together, but the quality of the material is a little patchy. It wouldn’t be fair to say that they’ve lost their edge, but there is a sense that they’ve tried to go beyond the straight-up rock ‘n’ roll template of their debut and haven’t quite hit on a coherent new style. That’s a shame because straight-up rock ‘n’ roll suited them very much, but there are nonetheless some encouraging signs here.