Album Review: Mrs. Piss – Self-Surgery

[Sargent House; 2020]

The line between giving a fuck and not giving a fuck is a hard one to walk. How do you create something that’s free-spirited but also got every touch it needs? How does the painter decide when to pull away from their work and put down their brush? It’s a push and pull that artists of all kind grapple with in various measures across their careers. Chelsea Wolfe and Jess Gowrie are no different. In creating the debut LP, Self-Surgery, as their new duo Mrs. Piss, they have spoken about this struggle. “We tried not to overthink the songs as we were writing them, but at the same time we did consciously put a lot into crafting them into our own weird sonic vision,” Wolfe stated in the album’s press release. This shows in the end result, and that turns out to work both for and against their favour.

Self-Surgery is brief, noisy, and carefree for the most part. It’s still very much in the darkly-hued territory that Wolfe is known for, but in combination of Gowrie and the ethos of creating for the sheer fun of it, the result is something looser, punkier, and more rambunctious than has come before. It’s a good side for Wolfe to explore, as there’s definite promise in the whiplash delivery of “Downer Surrounded By Uppers” and “Nobody Wants To Party With Us”; the latter sounds like it would make a killing in a live setting, its swinging drums practically summoning a mosh pit. She also shows something new on the title track, as she and Gowrie go between plunging into a molasses-thick darkness and rocking the fuck out with heavy bass and callback vocals.

While tracks like the aforementioned may have some Wolfe listeners taken aback with their freewheeling swagger and delivery, many will sound familiar. Brief opening track “To Crawl Inside” has the hallmarks of Wolfe’s dramatic side; “I’m bathing in the filth of the world, ” she whispers menacingly in the track’s final few seconds. “Knelt” spends four minutes lurching about slow and steady fuzz, while “You Took Everything” dives into the sludgier, death metal side of Wolfe’s catalogue, complete with screamo vocals in the choruses. In these there are definite echoes of Wolfe’s 2017 album Hiss Spun, on which she and Gowrie worked together previously.

Fans will get something from Self-Surgery for sure, and will likely appreciate a different shade to Wolfe’s style, be it letting loose with her impressive vocal range or channelling her dark streak into adrenaline-filled bursts of energy. However, it’s also hard to imagine listeners devoting as much time Self-Surgery as they do to her far superior solo albums. 

Self-Surgery is punchy and full of potential, but that’s mostly what it rides on. It’s a quick fix, but its depths are easily plundered. Aforementioned “Downer Surrounded By Uppers” makes a good first impression, but the true excitement from the album thereafter seems to wane after a few listens through (which is easy, as the album runs just shy of 19 minutes long).

It feels improper to criticise an album primarily made for the fun of creation itself, but the earlier-mentioned push/pull of not wanting to fuss over the tracks too much but also wanting to give them due diligence seems to be a factor at play here. “Downer Surrounded By Uppers” would be improved if it kept riding the fiery energy it musters up before it cuts off at the two minute mark; “M. B. O. T. W. O.” doesn’t even hit the 90-second mark, but it still manages to lose itself; and even though “Knelt” is by far the longest song here, at four minutes, it could definitely spend more time exploring its doom-y chasm.

The production seems a little choppy at times too, but there are some superb touches. The drums in particular are mixed to the front, and when “Nobody Wants To Party With Us” switches grooves to lather in murmuring synths, the snare comes at you like a 2×4 to the head. It seems there’s another push and pull of simultaneously wanting to let the textures devour, but also allowing tempo and energy take the lead. 

Self-Surgery is a good start though, and as said, there’s definitely potential here for Mrs. Piss to be something whip-crack fast and powerful. “This project was a chance for us to do things our own way, on our own terms, and we plan to invite more womxn musicians along for future Mrs. Piss recordings,” says Wolfe. “We both have so much more to say; so much more pain and anger to express,” Gowrie adds. As the band gets fleshed out and the duo refine their volatile chemistry, Mrs. Piss will truly become a name to reckon with. “Oh, I think I know what this is,” Wolfe declares repeatedly on “Knelt”, like she’s figuring out a dream in real time; with the next step the vision should hopefully be clearer for her, Gowrie, and the listeners.