Tomboys are all about duality. Girls, but with the supposed characteristics of boys.

It’s fitting then that Boston-based Tomboy embraces duality. From the first thirty seconds of “Tomboy Anthem,” Sweetie presents a real dichotomy. On the one hand it is severe and uncompromising, on the other it is sweet and juvenile, as the title suggests somewhat ironically.

The slow arpeggiated intro gives way to the chug of “Tomboy Anthem” and the song’s screamed high school sitcom lyrics (“You read my mind/Well I read your diary”). The title track is a building, post-punk treatise, and while it would be at home on a 90’s Riot Grrrl release, it is distinctly contemporary. The sinister intro evokes modern acts like Savages that have updated post-punk for a new millennium, while still sounding fresh.

“Tomboy Anthem” is a fuck-you, and it isn’t the only track that is. The bulk of the album is brutal, uncompromising, and punk. A lot of it is addressed to “you.” And “you” is usually in the wrong.

Most female rock acts tend to choose between two paths: disregard gender or make music fully aware of the gender disparity in the music world. Tomboy have certainly picked the latter. “I’m In the Fucking Band” tells a story that would probably resonate with many female band members in the male-centric world of punk music.  At this point in the album (and in the history of music), you should know that “hey, women can rock too,” but Tomboy wants to make that as clear as possible.

And this feminist streak isn’t quarantined to one track– it appears throughout the album. The title-track “Sweetie” speaks directly to catcalling, unwanted contact, and general male entitlement towards women (“Don’t fucking touch me/Let me give you some advice/You call me sweetie/But that’s not what you mean”).  The overt messaging is reminiscent of DC’s newest punks Priests, only far more in-your-face (which is saying a lot since Priests’ most recent release was titled Bodies and Control and Money and Power).

With “Bethany” and “Can’t Stand You” Tomboy prove their hardcore street cred with fast guitar, gang vocals, and plenty of angst (“I can’t stay here/I can’t stand you”). Over half of the tracks on Sweetie clock in under the short, sweet, and very punk length of two minutes.  These riot grrls seem to draw inspiration from bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, but also hardcore punk.

At times, however, Tomboy move slightly away from riot grrrl and hardcore. “Emma” draws more from the 60’s, with dueling chimey and fuzzy guitars in the verse that give way to a big baroque pop chorus and breezy West Coast harmonies. The more subdued sound of the final track, “Blue,” with the added reverb and removed distortion is also a change, though not necessarily a welcome one. The duality is gone, leaving lollypop pop that tastes too saccharine after the hardcore punk of tracks like “I’m In the Fucking Band.” The lyrics on Sweetie have depth and meaning, but they aren’t particularly poetic, and without the gritty delivery they risk sounding sophomoric.

But overall, Sweetie is a strong release with nods not only to 60’s rock and 90’s Riot Grrls, but also punk and post-punk contemporaries. Endearingly juvenile on the surface, the lyrics to Sweetie have something serious to say about being a woman in the music world. And like all good punk bands, Tomboy show that you can be tough, play fast, yell loud and still make catchy music.

Album Review: Tomboy - Sweetie
Pros
  • Music with a message
  • Punk should be catchy, and it is
  • Riot grrrl vibes
Cons
  • A few duds
7.8Overall Score

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