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The Replacements - Dead Man’s Pop Music Album Reviews

The new box set includes demos, a live show, and a fascinating, stripped-down remix of the band’s 1989 album Don’t Tell a Soul that reveals an alternate history of one of their most divisive records.
The Replacements story is filled with what-ifs and near misses. Their legend, essentially, is that if the chips had fallen differently, they might have become a popular band and had success into the 1990s, like their friends and rivals R.E.M. What if they had played ball with their label? What if they hadn’t made so many enemies? What if they hadn’t been so fucked up?

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Pop and noise make for strangely suited bedfellows on an album, by turns colorful and crushing, steeped in physical and psychic pain.

Like many noise musicians, Black Dresses have a lot to say about pain. Over the last couple of years, the Canadian duo of Devi McCallion and Ada Rook has screamed, rapped, and moaned about the lasting impact of trauma and the indescribable psychic effects of existing in a world that wants you dead. The music that has accompanied those feelings has been appropriately twisted. Their 2018 debut, WASTEISOLATION, felt like pop radio being pulled into a black hole, stretching and destroying the connective tissue that held together the memorable melodies.

Across their many solo efforts and side projects, they’ve often worked with fellow pop mutators like Katie Dey and 100 Gecs’ Laura Les, which might give you an idea of the overwhelming sort of music you’re in for with their songs as a duo. And if it doesn’t, they’ve recently been tweeting about the parallels between Kesha and early Nine Inch Nails, seemingly conscious that their music falls somewhere in the murky Venn diagram between those two wildly different acts.

Since WASTEISOLATION, they’ve released a second full-length album, THANK YOU, as well as a pair of EPs and a smattering of one-offs and side projects. Their music has adopted a variety of tones and moods, but it’s been almost universally heavy, a pool of emotional sludge that they can’t help but coming back to swim in. This prolific run has been exciting to follow for those who appreciates work that interrogates, like, the weightiness of existence, but it’s easy to see how such work might take a toll on its creators. They’ve said recently that they don’t even like to think about the events that inspired their earliest songs. “It’s not useful for me to stew on [the topics that informed earlier records],” they wrote on Twitter earlier this month. “So we moved on.”

That’s the headspace in which they released their third album in two years, LOVE AND AFFECTION FOR STUPID LITTLE BITCHES. The title alone hints at how different their disposition is this time around. Many of the songs are about enduring pain, but they’re also about finding camaraderie and friendship through it all—a reminder that “compassion” comes from the Latin words for “suffering” and “together.” The record opens with a song called “STATIC” that starts, appropriately, with wheezing electronics and a scream shredded enough to induce sympathy pain, but it’s a bit of a fake-out. As McCallion and Rook trade verses, it’s clear that there’s something more complicated going on. The lines that peek through the maelstrom feel almost hopeful. In the chorus, they offer something of a thesis statement for the record: “So fucked up but honestly/I’ve never felt more alive.”

The record is still incredibly heavy. “HERTZ” is a grinding track about enduring a life of physical and psychic pain. On “CARTOON NETWORK,” they wish their real lives were just a TV show so they could just watch the troubling narratives unfold and tweet about them. “DROOL” features a sternum-snapping industrial breakdown that’d make Pharmakon proud. On “MY HEART BEATS OUT OF TIME,” Rook describes her body as a “rotting shell” and the world as a “fucked-up hell.”

But the spirit of the record is triumphant; the crushing sounds are surrounded by more colorful, uplifting moments. They haven’t given up on the gloom or the fuzz, but there’s this feeling that even if the clouds never pass, peace, or something like it, is possible. McCallion puts it nicely on “MUSIC,” a meditation on how their art won’t necessarily deliver them from evil. “The pain’s still loose in my head,” she sings. “But that’s ok.”

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