By Trent Warner
What are songwriters supposed to do when they lack conflict in their personal lives? What happens to an underground punk band when they move away from small DIY tours in underground venues to playing around the world at increasingly prominent clubs and festivals?
You might think that punk music needs that conflict; that a punk band loses its credibility as it grows; but White Lung is progressing in direct retaliation against these doubts. On Paradise, they have gotten better. They are digging deeper. As a band, they’ve pushed their craft further, and like juggernauts show no signs of slowing down. They’re as hard, fast, and loud as they were on their first album, but they’re moving in a direction that’s as unrelenting as their music and there’s no sign of them slowing down or crashing abruptly.
Critics have always noted the pop leniencies of vocalist Mish Barber-Way’s voice and hooks, but on Paradise it culminates into the band’s most catchy and accessible work to date. The album’s third song, “Below,” wouldn’t sound out of place next to Hole’s best work. With one minute left in the song, Barber-Way’s melody fades from the forefront into the background, turning to ash with the song’s sharp guitar as she exclaims, “I want to take it all down.” Her words are a final spark against a world trying to cut the persona she’s embodying down.
The band’s most recent album Deep Fantasy fought against the encroachment women face in our society, and was their most upfront feminist punk record. It tackled body dysmorphia, rape culture, and sexual assault in a way that felt both empathetic and healing despite the heady assault of guitar and drums.
These riot grrrl roots are still present on Paradise, but the politics have shifted to be more personal and less societal. Since Fantasy, Barber-Way got married and has stated that she’s in a happier place than she’s ever been while recording. Now, the writing reaches past more obvious political stances to embody characters that showcase these same ideas as it relates to their own experiences.
The album’s second single “Kiss Me When I Bleed” is a prime example. It’s written from the perspective of a rich woman who marries below her social class: “They say I split my pride in two / when I became a bride for you / but what do they know?” To her, being in love is more powerful than societal pressure and even when at its messiest it can be all consuming (“He’ll suck out your eyes for me”).
In an interview with Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) posted on their website to promote the album, Barber-Way said, “There’s this really stupid attitude that only punks have, where its somehow uncool to become a better songwriter… I have no interest in staying in Kindergarten.” If that’s the case, then White Lung might be uncool, yet they’re making stronger music than most punks out there.Paradise, White Lung