Album of the Day: Mal Blum, “Pity Boy”

So much of being queer is about defiance—about insisting on your own existence in the face of a world hell-bent on erasing you. So, what are you supposed to do when it’s the people you love most who are wronging you? On Pity Boy, New York songwriter Mal Blum proposes an innovative solution: be empathetic.

Loosely speaking, the music on Pity Boy is power pop, but it’s never beholden to the strict conventions of that genre. Blum’s voice tends to remain in an understated, K Records-style register, delivering lyrics of seething insecurity in a tone that suggests that you know what you did, and they shouldn’t have to get into it. But there’s always a sense that the narrator is as messed up as the ones they’re addressing. As the driving highlight “Well, Fuck” demonstrates, these songs are just as much “fuck me” as they are “fuck you.”

The music similarly straddles that line between making friends and taking no prisoners. It’s punk in spirit, but the production is rich and warm, wrapping the power chords and solos in a sunny, welcoming fuzz. At their best, as on the jangly opener “Things Still Left to Say,” they sound like The Buzzcocks, if The Buzzcocks opted for compassion instead of bile. Meanwhile, the quieter moments, like the brooding “Splinter” or the gorgeous verse of “Gotta Go,” reveal the melancholy lurking at the heart of these songs.

But it’s Mal Blum’s knack for slant aphorisms and direct vulnerability that get you in the end. Take “See Me,” a roiling punk elegy for the forgotten, downtrodden, and defiant that’s perhaps the album’s biggest highlight. The chorus starts with Blum plaintively muttering a lament that, for trans folk, should sound heart-breakingly familiar: “Why can’t they see me? Why can’t they see me?” Then, with defeat on the horizon, the band shoot back with an impassioned lurch, grounded in their singer’s simple, confident affirmation: “I’m right here.” They aren’t going anywhere.

-Max Cohen

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