Black Dresses Continue to Push the Boundaries of Pop Music with ‘Peaceful as Hell’

‘Peaceful as Hell’ cover art.

I never thought I would familiarize myself and enjoy the soundscapes of modern noise and electropop, but after getting acquainted with the works of Charli XCX, 100 gecs, and now Black Dresses, they are genres I find myself pulled to with each new release.

With Black Dresses’s latest project, Peaceful as Hell, Devi McCallion and Ada Rook provide fans with an eclectic mix of noise pop and electro-industrial that is typical of the duo’s sound, while also comprising songs that will be key to their evolution.

While a lot of the compositions on this record sound similar to their previous work, I can reassure doubtful fans now that Devi and Rook offer variety and diverse songwriting.

In fact, the opening track, “LEFT ARM OF LIFE,” shows restraint as melancholic synths and drums introduce the record. Accompanying this are Rook’s melodramatic lyrics of love and growth, echoing the themes discussed on LOVE AND AFFECTION FOR STUPID LITTLE BITCHES. The melody builds until it suddenly dissipates, concluding the track with calming synths that wash over the listener. This opener might surprise fans as subtlety isn’t the duo’s forte, but it offers a nice change of pace.

The succeeding track, “DAMAGE SUPPRESSOR,” quickly returns to form, however, as this song combines noise pop and electro-industrial in usual Black Dresses fashion. The contrast of the distant vocals and abrasive noise pop, and the constant switches between a lively, distorted beat and a downtempo piano motif provides an extensive, yet focused tune.

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP” is another example of aggression mixing with sweetness to create a fascinating combination. However, aggression dominates the delightful on this track as Devi and Rook place poppy, juvenile keys only when discussing their friendship and love for each other; otherwise, the rest of the song contains harsh, industrial noise.

Other highlights include, “ANGEL HAIR,” a sticky and sugary glitch pop track that concludes with an overwhelming noise section, “MiRRORGiRL,” another abrasive noise pop tune that matches the confrontational subject of the song’s text, and “SHARP HALO,” with its icy synths, dizzying keys that sound straight from a video game, and hellish, heavy distortion.

One of my favorite elements of this record is the introduction of guitars, both acoustic and electric, into Black Dresses repertoire. For instance, “DAMAGE SUPPRESSOR,” uses the acoustic guitar during the breakdown before the final verse. Electric guitars can also be heard on tracks such as “SCARED 2 DEATH,” as it roars in harmony with the vocal melody, or on “EXPRESS YOURSELF,” as chords screech alongside an industrial techno beat.

The best example of the duo stepping out of their comfort zone is on “CREEP U,” which is ironic given this is their take on 90s alternative rock with its signature rock drum rhythm, noisy guitars, and bass line. Devi and Rook can’t help but inject their personality on the traditional alt-rock structure by adding an industrial, glitch section before the song concludes. “CREEP U” shows the duo’s versatility as not only are they willing to craft songs outside of their prowess, but they excel at it.

While most of the tracks on this project result in a satisfying listen, some compositions are lacking. The structure of “IM A FREAK CUZ IM ALWAYS FREAKED OUT” is erratic to match the lyrical text of struggling to conform to societal norms, yet it struggles to keep my attention.

The following track, “BLISS AND STUPIDITY,” also suffers from the same problems as the structure and pacing are all over the place. The song tends to move through different movements without any sense of progression. The bursts of energy throughout the track come out of nowhere and feel unearned. The noisy guitars and dizzying synths are the only redeeming quality of this track.

“MAYBE THIS WORLD IS ANOTHER PLANETS HELL?” is an interesting track as it acts as the opener’s antithesis. While “LEFT ARM OF LIFE,” sounds like a descent into hell, this track features warm and ethereal synths. The first track warns of “impending doom,” while the lyrics of this track promotes compassion and love. This would act as a better closer, given how underwhelming the actual closing track “666” is.

While this project is without its shortcomings, Peaceful as Hell solidifies Black Dresses as a key, prominent figure in modern electropop and noise pop. My grievances with some of the compositional decisions or track placements do not undercut the fact that Black Dresses are pushing the boundaries of pop music. Hopefully, Devi and Rook’s contemporaries are taking notes as this record achieves what I wish other pop artists would do; take risks!

Essential Tracks: “Left Arm of Life,” “Damage Suppressor,” “Angel Hair,” “Beautiful Friendship,” “Mirrorgirl,” “Scared 2 Death,” “Sharp Halo,” “Express Yourself,” “Creep U”

8/10

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