“Just Like Pain, Just Like Love”: Black Dresses Return

Photo courtesy of Black Dresses.

Allison Harris touches down at No Bells with an ode (farewell?) to Black Dresses. Read all their work! I’m particularly a fan of this Ringtone Mag piece on “L’amour Toujours”.

On Valentine’s Day 2021, Devi McCallion and Ada Rook, of the seemingly disbanded noise pop duo Black Dresses, tweeted a link to a new album they released called Forever in Your Heart. They additionally wrote, “We’re no longer a band unfortunately. Regardless, we’ve decided to keep putting out music.” The video attached to the tweet has amassed over 30,000 views, and finds McCallion and Rook together in person, masked up with dark curls blowing in the wind, taking turns filming one another bopping around slowly to their new album’s first track, “PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 

Black Dresses, like many women who came before them in any genres touched by noise and electronic, refused to make concessions. In only a short span of time, the band came to shape the styles of “hyperpop”, as we now know it, by presenting an uncompromising, industrial sound. Then, they refused to compromise who they were in the face of online harassment towards McCallion, announcing that they would “no longer exist” last May. With their surprise return Forever In Your Heart, they continue to bring pure and utter chaos while also informing the tastes of hyperpop listeners. 

Forever In Your Heart is tagged on Bandcamp as “alternative”, “electronic”, “heavy metal”, “industrial”, “noise pop” and “lesbian slacker music”. “this shit fucking rips simply states one purchaser of the album. Another writes: “Potentially the most cathartic listen I’ve ever had.” To put it mildly, Forever In Your Heart does fucking rip. Atop grinding electronic beats, the band’s vocals go from seemingly apathetic to screaming with ferocity in a manner of seconds. Moments of misery and euphoria clash and congeal to form gorgeous tracks like “Heaven” and “Ragequitted”, which slowly fades away to white noise and silence after McCallion cries out wantonly in the chorus that she “doesn’t wanna do this anymore”.

Alongside the noise and turbulence, which they’re known for, they often hone in on calm and clarity here, a shift that may have come out of their breakup and seeking respite. The song “Gone In An Instant” finds Rook and McCallion quietly existential, wondering what remains after everything “crumbles into pieces”.

Sometimes, people trying to define hyperpop forget about the turmoil and anxiety woven into the sound, focusing more on the slick use of autotune and ironic references. They miss that in, say, 100 gecs’ 1000 gecs, one of the most identifiable examples of what people call hyperpop, there are moments of full-on emotional breakdown that threaten to careen the album all the way off the tracks. Black Dresses, peers of 100 gecs and an influence on their defining style, embraced this darkness with tracks like “DROOL” and “BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”, and used it to carve out their niche in the realm of extremely online music. 

The music of Black Dresses isn’t hyperpop, per se. But the genre would not sound how it does without their contribution and influence on other producers. Both Black Dresses and 100 gecs began releasing music in 2017, and became associated with one another in the coming years, when Black Dresses covered 100 gecs’ “800 db cloud” and contributed a remix of “745 sticky” to 1000 gecs and the tree of clues. 100 gecs member Laura Les listed Black Dresses as one of the influences for her solo song “Haunted”. The sheer volume of their output in just a few years made Black Dresses and the gecs well-known in hyperpop’s online communities. 

Many of the genre’s current major players, as defined by Spotify’s controversial “hyperpop” playlist, create music with a controlled chaos that feels partly sourced from Black Dresses. It can be heard in songs like “GLITT3R” by Rizha and Glitch Gum, “Ethanol” by Madge, and “new lyfe” by Angelus. Alongside the PC Music and Drain Gang members that have been canonized as “hyperpop originators” were McCallion and Rook, sharpening the blades for the industrial edges of this style. They remain beloved for progressing it forward, and with Forever In Your Heart, they continue to build textures that may very well serve as future inspiration. As for their return? Unclear, but they might’ve snuck in a hint on “Gone In An Instant”: “Everything continues just like everything does–just like pain, just like love.”

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