There’s something distinctly Cronenbergian about Dogsbody, the seething debut album from the excellent New York group Model/Actriz. Its 40 minutes house bleeding jaws, splintered bodies, thorns that rip hands to shreds, eyes that get caught on hooks, bloated cadavers pulled with a net from the bottom of a lake. And it’s not just the lyrics—singer Cole Haden’s voice is purposely close mic’ed, meaning that each whisper and croak slithers wormlike directly into your ear canal—a shivery and sinister take on ASMR. Paired with the throbbing industrial grind of the music—big, queasy guitars, bloated bass, drums that hit like a medicine ball to the forehead—the album exudes a sense of both revulsion by and fascination with bodies and the things they do.
That’s not entirely without cause—Haden has spoken repeatedly about the influence of the musical Cats on his work, saying in one interview that it “filled [him] with sexual vigor and terror.” That combination of emotions is as good a place as any to start with Dogsbody. The album opens with “Donkey Show” which finds Haden up late scrolling through Grindr, its abstract lyrics swinging from disgust (“Heaven can’t erase the blackness of my heart”) to giddy libidinousness (“You don’t have to try to be gentle/ Do it the way you feel right now”). In “Slate,” Haden renders the extension of grace like a Francis Bacon painting; forgiveness becomes streaks of chalky liquid that, “pours out of my hands/ seeps into the grass/ running through the drains.”
Musically, the band sits squarely in the genre Robert Christgau once dubbed “pigfuck” and which has been latterly revived by groups like Gilla Band and Chat Pile. What structure there is in these oozing songs is provided by the rhythm section of drummer Ruben Radlauer and bassist Aaron Shapiro; the pair prove equally adept at jackhammer throttle and dance-punk hustle, and their rock-solid playing creates steel girders between which guitarist Jack Wetmore pours shrieking, molten rivers of sound. The songs don’t have chords, they have claws.
For all its guts and grime, the album ends with a kind of prayer: On “Sun In,” Haden swims his way out of the swamp, singing over a gentle guitar progression, “The surface of the water, crushed like silk in my hand/ The sky is shaking out the stains I left/ And it’s so bright with the sun in my eyes.” Dogsbody is an album about our basic—and frequently base—desires, their inherent contradictions, and the ways they both thrill and repulse us. It’s about the beauty of the human form and the grotesqueness lurking just beneath the skin. It’s about all of the wonderfully wicked ways we entertain ourselves before finally feeling our way to the sun.