YOU'RE BETTER (WHITE VINYL)
Label: SELF AWARE
Release Date: September 30, 2022
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In 2015, Charlotte musicians Sarah Blumenthal and Susan Plante posed a challenge to one another: learn new instruments, form a band, and call it Faye. Blumenthal was known locally for her guitar and vocals in fuzzy punk project Alright; Plante studied classical piano and once dreamed of playing in symphonies. Their experience on these instruments immediately imbued the fledgling project with distinctive style. On bass, Blumenthal focused on interlocking lines and hefty rhythmic parts, just as a guitarist might. Plante, now playing guitar and eager to get away from music theory, intuitively incorporated dissonant notes and harmonically bent solos. “We’re not married to rudiments or structurally correct ways of playing,” theorizes Blumenthal, and that’s one of the group’s many strengths. Faye’s spacious yet driven approach to indie rock quickly attracted attention, and in 2016 the band released a debut self-titled EP on then-beloved local label Tiny Engines. Tour dates and shows with celebrated peers including Japanese Breakfast, Mannequin Pussy and R. Ring followed shortly. “We had good stuff happen to us early,” Plante celebrates. “But some specific men locally were very dismissive and demeaning when we started this band—and we were some of the very few women playing music in our scene in Charlotte at the time,” remembers Blumenthal. Self-described introspective and anxious songwriters, Plante and Blumenthal couldn’t help but channel some of their hurt at those misdirected criticisms into their music, laying the groundwork for a longer-form release.
You’re Better is Faye’s first full length, its title an admonishing kiss-off to those who naysay the duo’s earned accomplishments, but also a hype-up reminder to one another that they’re deserving of their achievements. “Those EP songs were first draft songs, recorded all in one day,” recalls Blumenthal of Faye’s origins. “It was pretty rushed and raw.” For the album, written over the course of three years, Faye carefully melded its songwriters’ differences of taste, interweaving Plante’s love of hardcore catharsis with Blumenthal’s pop punk bonafides. They spent five days in early 2020 tracking at Sonelab, the Northampton, MA-based studio where engineer Justin Pizzoferrato has helmed Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth recordings. Pizzoferrato expertly suggested effects that approximated Faye’s live energy; in concert, both Blumenthal and Plante play through a Pro Co RAT, but their patented tone felt different in the studio. “When Justin helped pick out some of the pedals, hitting the first chord and feeling like a goddess…” Plante reminisces, before Blumenthal finishes her memory: “When it’s finally dialed in and you hit that chord, you may as well be playing to 10,000 people.” They’re joined by Thomas Berkau on drums, who’s been playing with them live since 2018 and, in keeping with Faye’s M.O., was originally a bassist. “He has a non-straightforward way of accenting on drums,” Plante enthuses of Berkau’s nearly melodic fills. “He’s a very carefree and positive person,” adds Blumenthal. “We’re all chasing a vibe.”
Perhaps that vibe-chasing is the imperative behind “No Vibes,” the album’s opener and one of the earliest songs written for You’re Better. It came to Blumenthal in a fifteen minute rush, and was the first fully completed song she brought to Faye. “It’s about feeling stuck or apathetic—feeling like you’re supposed to go somewhere, but why?” offers Blumenthal. With its driving fuzz bass, slip-slide guitar riffs, and churning snare fills, Plante reports that it’s a highlight of their live set. “Dream Punches,” a favorite of Berkau’s, came to Plante nearly complete while on a trail run. “I had to continue my run, singing to myself like a crazy person,” Plante laughs. Written about inescapably stressful nightmares, the track uses vibrato vocal doubles and delayed, surfy guitar indebted to Kelley Deal’s anti-showiness, playfully working through Plante’s jealousy of people with happy dreams. “Nag D,” equally co-written by Blumenthal and Plante, uses feedback squeals over an uptempo bass-and-drum groove to spit out teeth-grinding tension; “Don’t talk to me,” both singers command in tandem. It was musically inspired by Secret Guest, one of their favorite local bands; Plante first played the song’s freakout guitar solo during a show together, and the scraping, guttural release she extracts from her fretboard became a climax of the track.
“I am the hand, you are the teeth” is the lyrical centerpiece of “Teeth”; written by Plante, the phrase is sung primarily by Blumenthal in the bursting, counter-melodic coda of the tensely building song, with doomily descending guitar chords and explosive bass. Explains Blumenthal: “The song’s about being small, but it’s pretty big.” The album further explores this emotion with “Mortal Kombat,” written in response to Faye’s misogynistic naysayers. Studio experimentation led the group to decide upon a stunning tempo shift, which lets the song’s venom seep out at both a slow kick-stomp pace and then at a full punk sprint. While Plante delivers wind-swept synthesis on a Korg MS-20, Blumenthal defiantly sings: “I can’t control you, I can’t even control myself, but I can sure walk away.”
Though Faye has experienced growing pains in Charlotte, there are also a million reasons to celebrate the city. “For every one shitty person, there are a few dozen amazing people. The scene right now is very cross-genre, diverse and inclusive,” Blumenthal clarifies. Buoyed by its members' friendship and desire to push one another into new challenges, Faye has been able to participate in and plan some special musical moments, including a Breeders-covering benefit show and a costume-required pajama party gig. You’re Better is seeing release via Self Aware Records, the label Blumenthal founded ten years ago with her husband and Alright bandmate Josh Robbins; having Blumenthal’s expertise behind Faye’s much-anticipated album release has allowed the pair an even deeper level of intentionality, and a closer understanding of how to push against setbacks. “It’s been delay after delay,” laments Blumenthal. “A lot of these songs are our own hype songs to get us to move past whatever the setback is.” Concludes Plante: “We’re allowing ourselves to be proud of ourselves, and know we hold a creative place musically. We’re good enough at this that we can show up and not diminish ourselves.” On You’re Better, Faye clears its hurdles with artistry and honesty, buoyed by the connection and trust between Blumenthal and Plante—which makes each of them not only better, but stronger.
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