[Epitaph; 2021]

It goes without saying, but COVID-19 did quite a number on everyone. In music, a growing list of shuttered venues offered a depressing look into the future. Even with sense of normalcy now visible on the horizon, Mannequin Pussy have returned to remind us basically how much it sucked to be in a state of quarantine – but also how it was something to overcome together. Rather than work on pre-written songs in the studio, they started from scratch, creating these five new songs from the energy generated by their first chance to play together in months.

“Drunk II”, from their previous album Patience, was a mid-30s-in-bed-before-10-pm-rocker disguised a dorm room barn burner, and easily one of the anthems for Summer 2019. It introduced a new level for Mannequin Pussy that few would have expected them to reach back on their blistering early releases. Now functioning now as a trio, Colins “Bear” Regisford, Kaleen Reading, and lead vocalist Missy are back with their first new music since that breakthrough (and overall bitchin’ record) by way of a new EP called Perfect.

The band is on fire for the entirety of the short-and-savage Perfect, balancing that joyous pop-punk that made Patience such a jam but still proving they can shred when necessary. Opener “Control” is the perfect example of this, starting out low and inviting before junk-punching us repeatedly with those soaring vocals Missy put into full flight on Patience. She can howl and screech like with the best of them, but it’s her powerful expression that deserves high praise here. Her vocals are emotive – one minute wrecking our souls, the next giving us a warm embrace and the tussle of our hair. In keeping with the scope of their progression, Missy’s lyrics are just as biting as they were previously, “I’ve come undone / I sliced it how I’d rather feel the hurt / Separated / Thanks for watching me pleading.”

The title track follows and draws a line in the sand with its retrograded crunch-punk aesthetic, a brisk return to Romantic-style punk songwriting, but made even more tantalizing thanks to its uncontrolled intensity and higher production value. This all works into the favor of Mannequin Pussy and their long-term fans, as they hark back to their early days while still sounding like they’ve come on leaps and bounds. This continues on Perfect‘s centrepiece “To Lose You”, which has a slight grandiosity that echoes Patience, particularly in the main riff and the way Missy’s vocals are tempered on her tender verses but then unleashed for the song’s crescendos.

“Pigs is Pigs” is a first in that it showcases Bear on lead vocal, and his snarling and gruff delivery comes off like the plot twist no one saw coming, especially as its combined with the most outrightly aggressive backing. It’s slightly disruptive, but in a good way, proving Mannequin Pussy aren’t afraid to experiment and shake things up, singing about something political rather than overtly personal.

Closing out the compact EP is possibly one of the band’s most intriguing numbers, a stripped-down ballad-esque finale called “Darling”. It’s more measured than anything else in their catalogue and it highlights more of Missy’s abilities to write and perform honey-dripping pop. It’s a beautiful way to close the all-too-brief EP and leaves us feeling that, while Mannequin Pussy may not have necessarily progressed hugely, they have found thrilling new ways to implement the sounds that made Patience such a success. Most excitingly, the little glimpses of new ideas and chemistry suggest it’s just a stepping stone to what’s next.

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