Colleen Reviews Chastity Belt’s “Chastity Belt”

Colleen Reviews Chastity Belt’s “Chastity Belt”

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Chastity Belt turn the focus inward on their latest album. The self-titled LP treats existential dread with compassion and finds meaning in small moments.

Chastity Belt wrote their first song as a joke. Whitman College sophomores Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Gretchen Grimm, and Annie Truscott arrived at a frat party, screamed “CHASTITY BELT!” and flipped over a ping pong table. They wrote an irreverent punk song that won the school’s battle of the bands, and decided to keep writing music. Their early discography includes titles like “Nip Slip” and “Pussy Weed Beer.”

Over the course of four albums, Chastity Belt have dropped the frat party attitude in favor of viscerally vulnerable and melancholy songwriting. On their sophomore album Time To Go Home, the band flexed their ability to write complex sonic soundscapes, and their third release, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, revealed blunt and heartbreaking lyrics about feeling hopeless and lost in their twenties. 

Now, Chastity Belt are back with their most personal record yet. It’s fitting that the band’s fourth release is self-titled. Chastity Belt paints an unembellished picture of songwriter Julia Shapiro’s struggles with existential dread and self-doubt. But as much as the album is a portrait of Shapiro’s anxieties, it is also a testament to the strength that the band find in each other. 

The through line between all of the album’s songs is Shapiro’s stream-of-consciousness rambling. The songs on Chastity Belt don’t follow traditional verse-chorus song structures—many don’t seem to be going anywhere in particular and are just following the free-flowing and often spiraling thoughts of Shapiro. 

The album’s tone remains fairly mellow throughout. Instruments circle around each other, creating a gentle ebb and flow. Unlike the blistering guitar riffs on Time To Go Home, there are no real “solos” on this record. Lydia Lund layers her guitar playing thoughtfully with Shapiro’s, sprinkling in arpeggios to complement her bandmate’s chords. Annie Truscott’s bass lines are meandering and melodic, and Gretchen Grimm keeps her drum parts sparse and often syncopated, falling slightly off-beat.

In June of this year, Shapiro released her first solo album, Perfect Vision, which reflects her struggle with her mental health during Chastity Belt’s 2018 tour. About a third of the way into the tour, Chastity Belt cancelled the remainder of their shows. Shapiro was burnt out from the constant cycle of releasing, promoting, and touring a new album, only to turn around and do it all again. She questioned whether or not she wanted to continue pursuing music as a career and how much of her personal identity was encompassed by her image as an artist.

After taking time to focus on her own music, Shapiro returned to Chastity Belt with a renewed sense of calm. The songs on Chastity Belt address heavy internal battles, but ultimately greet them with a soft acceptance. Shapiro admits, “I just kill time by dreading everything,” on “Ann’s Jam” and says she is just “trying to get through everyday shit by acting with false confidence” on “Drown.”  But despite this nagging dread and self-doubt, Shapiro sits with these feelings and confronts them with compassion. “It takes a lot of time to really get it right,” she sings on “It Takes Time,” recognizing that it’s okay—it’s normal—to not have everything figured out. 

Shapiro spends a significant part of the album driving around Seattle. She drives to the bar in her SUV in “RAV-4,” and she sings along to scratched CDs with a friend in “Ann’s Jam.” Just as Chastity Belt reveals feelings of dread and hopelessness, it also finds peace in friendships. “In that moment” while singing in the car, “life felt significant.” Even if only for a few minutes, a car loaded with old CDs can make life feel meaningful. 

Shapiro recognizes that these feelings might never truly go away—and she’s okay with that. “This is a start,” she sings. “And it’ll go on / And we’ll feel the same way.” They might not always know where they’re headed, but Chastity Belt are driving onwards, and they’re doing it together. 

Score: Doing something small that makes you feel alive: smiling at a dog, listening to an old song, or just telling a friend you love them.

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