Potty Mouth: Hell Bent

Hell Bent cover art. Hell Bent cover art.

“You want your wishes, well you gotta work for it!” shouts Abby Weems on “Wishlist”, a rollicking and rough yet wise track on a record filled with similar empowering statements. While grating guitars and drums interweave around her, the message comes through loud and clear: Potty Mouth is a feminist punk band that isn’t afraid to be bold and brash, either sonically or thematically. More importantly, with debut album Hell Bent, Potty Mouth avoids being pigeonholed as just another “riot grrrl band.” No, this album is more than the product of influences like Buzzcocks and Sonic Youth. It’s powerful, excellent music and one of the better rock records of the year: impassioned, genuine, and strikingly relevant, both locally and to colleges everywhere. Especially in the Northampton/Amherst area, Hell Bent contributes to the burgeoning feminist movement, vocalizing the repetitive mission statement from earlier track “Rusted Shut”: “I’m rusted shut, but I’m not one to give up!/ I’m rusted shut, but I’m never gonna shut up!”

Smith College’s Potty Mouth has lately earned a tide of positive word of mouth. The Northampton quartet released Hell Bent on September 17, to excellent reviews and plenty of attention. In addition to earning admiration from the music press (including Pitchfork, Paste, NPR and Stereogum), the debut album has encapsulated the emotional angst of a generation of young people, particularly women. Thematically, the album has a heavy focus on the lives of collegiate youth: “Wish List” emphasizes the desire to escape small-town life, “Damage” delivers a simple yet weighty self-reflective statement right off the bat (“How real were you?”), and “The Gap” tells the tale of a dark gap year between high school and college. Weems’ lyricism is cleverly poised to make listeners alternately shudder and laugh in turns.

Sonically, the music punches you in the face and doesn’t stop for all 10 tracks. Weems’ voice is monotonous when she delivers lines like “My life’s alright” on “The Gap”, but it adopts a passionate, even humorous tone on penultimate track “Shithead”, wherein she lobs insults at a guy who “makes [her] skin crawl.” Despite the heaviness of the arrangements, Weems sails through some remarkably tight hooks here. “Sleep Talk” in particular stands out, danceable yet eerie, as Weems plainly states, “I have this feeling that I’ll wake up regretting what I’ve seen.” Bassist Ally Einbinder and guitarist Phoebe Harris do some solid work here as well. The instrumentation is even more remarkable considering that Harris and Weems just recently learned to play guitar. Drummer Victoria Mandanas is the key to it all; she keeps each track tightly wound and tense, creating a palpably punk atmosphere with upbeat tempos and timely fills. Altogether, though, the album incorporates many more genres than just punk rock: at times, it leans toward surf rock, indie rock, and even pop-punk (through some earworm choruses), giving the music world a refreshing take on feminist rock.

The strongest, most memorable moment on the album arrives halfway through, on “The Spins.” A cross between a memory of a night gone wrong and a warning to others, “The Spins” nearly collapses into grinding guitar fuzz 30 seconds in, only for Weems to resurrect the song with the dark lyric “It’s hard to say ‘no’/ Yeah it’s hard to say ‘no’/ But you think you’ll be ok/ ‘Til you’re lying on the floor.” Towards the end of the track, Weems breaks character and emotes clearly with a high-pitched shout: “Watch me crawl across the floor!” Potty Mouth are doing just that, constantly moving away from complacency and invoking a restless, if not rebellious, mantra against victimization and passivity.

Potty Mouth’s new bandcamp can be found here.