Stain Your Tongue, Houndsteeth’s debut album, is a sinuous and sincere exploration of the self.

While this 27-minute project deals with darker themes—stagnation, isolation and anxiety—shrill vocals and jazzy elements surface throughout to electrify these otherwise grim verses. Songs often seem to fall apart and deconstruct; members Jolee Gordon and Grace Ward synchronize their voices beautifully throughout the album, but they begin to combat each other. A beautiful display of syncopation, Stain Your Tongue translates life’s most discouraging moments into a musical composition that’s worth getting to know. 

Words fall flat when defining an all-consuming internal experience like anxiety. However, “Sway/Stay” is a near-perfect rendition of what anxiety feels like: rapid-heart rate, loss of control, and gripping panic. These feelings translate into a combustion of instrumentals and total loss of composure. Ward sings, “I feel you sway / I feel you stay,” and moments later, the song combusts—drums and guitars spontaneously lose their sense of harmony while vocals shatter and unravel into a directionless abyss. Chaos ensues musically and lyrically as the verse “Do you love me?” is playfully sung on a loop. 

Throughout the album, Ward and Gordon hone in on certain verses using repetition as a means of demonstrating the swirling entrapment that comes with feeling stagnant. In follow-up track “Pay No Mind,” a melancholy guitar lays down a minimal melody and Ward wistfully explains that she’s unable to shut off the emotions that absorb her. “You say to pay no mind / But that’s not my kind,” she sings, and continues, “My mind it over pays / It over plays/ It over and over and over again.” Pessimism consumes her as these despairing questions taunt her with no end in sight. Gordon’s vocals materialize behind Ward’s as they sing, “Is it always gonna feel this hard?” 

R.I.P” hits a few tracks later and introduces the subject of death into the mix. Heavy, bleak guitars strum over a sharp organ, setting a mirthless tone. Erratic kick drums begin to emerge and the regimented guitar loses its balance as Gordon and Ward sing, “The man in the room next door is dead…Rest in peace to the guy in the room next to me.” Gordon and Ward communicate the disturbing and disorienting experience upon hearing the news of a sudden death through the dramatic deconstruction of any sort of composure that was once present in this track. 

Throughout Stain Your Tongue, we witness Gordon and Ward assemble an abstract album that attempts to turn dissonance into expression. This album solidifies the importance of communication and expression, assigning a whole new meaning to emotive music. Their willingness to obstruct all sense of harmony where no harmony is felt is sincere and refreshing. Stain Your Tongue not only allows you to groove and sway. It’ll hold your hand alongside the madness. 

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