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Violent Heartstrings unfolds in unexpected ways. Imbued with apprehension and tension both lyrically and musically, an imminent descent into disintegration seems certain throughout. Despite a focus on the weighty and the wistful, the OPPOSITE SEX’s debut full-length still has a vibrant violence that makes the band’s post-punk stylings so intriguing. This is immediately evident in singer SHAWN HELTON’s vocals, which sound like a combination of IAN MCCULLOCH, GREG SAGE, and JAZ COLEMAN. Always intense and unhinged, even during the most musical of vocal lines grit and growls rip and tear their way through the aural fabric of a song, breaking up melodies that may otherwise have been too pretty, too sweet.
The title track, “Violent Hearstrings,” opens the album with PAUL BERNARDI’s bright and muscular bassline complemented by DAVE SVRJCEK’s brisk hi-hat riffing. The fast and light sound belies the gravity of the lyrical content, which sets the stage for the majority of the album with its themes of loss and longing. “Kissing in silence, our silhouettes in rain / I know that we’re drowning, your body slips away / Over the edge it ends,” Helton sings.
These feelings are echoed particuarly in “Turning Colors” (“Branching out to fade away, our hands never touch / Swollen feelings of remorse, what is left of us / To try again someday but it might not mean as much / The echoes of all lost always follow lust”) and “Walk on Water” (“Oceans passed before my eyes as you and I are kissed with age / As we walk on waves, thoughts that drift and fade”). But while such emotions find their way, in some form, onto every track, the presentation is quite varied.
The Opposite Sex has consistent touchstones in KILLING JOKE, early THE CURE, and BAUHAUS. The dissonant screech of STEVE PETIX’s saxophone on the record also brings late ‘70s New York City No Wave to mind. DENNIS KANE’s guitar work draws equally from these influences in an inventive fashion throughout, with even a bit of ‘80s pop metal thrown in on the opening line from “Does Anyone Truly Love Anybody Else.” A post-punk power ballad (if you will), it’s the one track on the album that could be categorized as a ‘love song’ in the traditional sense of the word. With mentions of candles, tears, and staring into one another’s eyes, it verges on the maudlin, but manages to pull through with the coarseness Helton adds to his somber and serious delivery.
Violent Heartstrings is solid and original, but there are a few weak points. The rhythm section isn’t as tight in some noticeable spots, and Helton’s vocals seem better in the live setting for a few of the tracks. This record is, however, far more of a close approximation of the inspired performance the Opposite Sex give in person when compared to their self-titled EP. (And the cover art is quite lovely as well.)
Yet another plus is that some of the best tracks come at the end to close out the album on a high note. “Shattering Walls” has some wonderful manic guitar glissandos to match Helton’s acrobatics, and their closing opus, “Dusk,” conjures some of THE DOORS’s black magic before ending the album with foreboding, funereal bells. Both songs reference red in their lyrics, passionate and forceful imagery which contrasts with the cold and contemplative connotation of blue, as well as the transience and impermanence of water and oceans that’s present on earlier tracks.
With Violent Hearstrings, the more you listen, the more you get. But detailed analysis aside, the all-consuming chasm of romantic regret is what will immediately draw you into this record. It’s in the vocals, the lyrics, the melodies, and it’s not to be missed. In keeping with The Big Takeover’s ethos, the Opposite Sex surely make ‘music with heart’—albeit a bruised, black, and bleeding one.
Check out the Opposite Sex CD release show on June 23rd in Washington D.C. at the Warehouse Next Door with NYC’s THE HUNT and BLACKLIST.
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