Childbirth revels in stepping outside of societal norms, even if it's at the cost of becoming a hygienic nightmare. On “Nasty Grrls,” the opening track of Childbirth’s second album Women’s Rights, Seattle's funniest musical feminists are downright giddy to proclaim how they “don’t wash their hands,” “cough into your drink,” and “dip everything in ranch.” But that’s only a primer for what’s to come, as the trio expertly blends humor and feminist commentary in a way that drives each point home with snide precision. Women’s Rights isn’t only the most hilarious Seattle album of 2015, it may just be the year’s best local offering, period.
Keeping with the nasty girls theme, Childbirth’s instrumentation is blissfully unkempt. Lead singer guitarist Julia Shapiro’s trashy guitar tone sets the somewhat chaotic mood, while Bree McKenna’s bass and Stacy Peck’s rapid fire drumming keep things together and moving briskly forward. There’s just enough hooky pop sensibility inserted into each tune to make them stand apart from one another, while avoiding feeling like they were polished too much in the studio.
What Shapiro achieves on Women’s Rights can easily go unnoticed, but it’s the key to Childbirth’s sound. The flat level of apathy in her vocal delivery is Childbirth’s greatest satirical weapon. She’s able adjust her tone just a few minute degrees to express pure, abject disdain. “Since When Are You Gay?” conveys the unpleasantness of peers doubting one’s queer identity as Shapiro dryly delivers collection of actual things that people have told McKenna, Peck, and their queer friends over the years. When presented in the warm confines of a melodic punk song, the callousness and insensitivity of lines like “I’ve known you for a long time / and you’re definitely straight,” “is this the only way that you could get a date?,” and “oh so you’re gay now too? / just because being gay is cool” becomes even more magnified. Things are a tad lighter on “Tech Bro,” a disenchanted rallying cry against the clueless dudes invading Capitol Hill that features the funniest lyric of the year: “I’ll let you explain feminism to me… / if I can use your HDTV.”
The comedy reaches a crescendo on “Siri, Open Tinder” (if you’re not on board just based on the title alone, what is wrong with you?), as Shapiro deadpan lists off stereotypical Tinder photo tropes while McKenna’s enthusiastic backup vocals act as the surrogate for the voice in Julia’s head, expressing the decision to accept or (mostly) pass on guys using the dating/hook up app: “Trout guy / swipe left!,” “Seahawks / swipe left!,” “married couple / swipe right! / group shot / which one are you?” And it’s not like every song on Women’s Rights is a rallying cry. Some are clearly more inside jokes for the band. For example, the angsty complaints “@Julia_Shapiro” probably seem to come out of left field with the background info that Childbirth’s Shaprio is mildly obsessed with with the Twitter account of her teenage namesake. It’s a case of proper contextualization actually making a tune more comedically absurd.
Dudes aren’t the only target of Childbirth’s eye rolling. On “Let’s Be Bad” Shapiro employs a smoky vocal tone to cuttingly mock the ways that privileged young women think they’re being “bad” by doing totally innocuous things (“Let’s be bad and split a desert”). “Breast Coast (Hangin’ Out)” throws hilarious (and less the subtle) shade at the vapidity of Best Coast’s songwriting tropes (“Hanging out / with my boyfriend / I love him ‘cause he’s hot”). While the cynic’s reflex reaction might be why are these so-called feminists attacking other women?, it's totally missing the point. Childbirth isn’t putting down the women in these songs as much as the harmful social norms that they’re continuing to promote. When a desert constitutes an act of defiance (because those calories will make it harder for you to keep up an “acceptable” figure) or a prominent woman just sings empty drivel about her man, it quietly reinforces the patriarchal structures that are in place.
In the acidic modern climate where the mere act of a women making a stand for equality online can illicit an outpouring of direct threats of violence, rape, and murder (be it Gamergate, #ShoutYourAbortion, or any number of less mainstream occurrences), empathy seems lost. Women’s Rights is a vessel capable of inducing empathy, even if stealthily so because of the satirical tone. I’m a cis white straight male. I haven’t had friends and family disbelievingly question my preferences in partners or had my sense of rebellion reduced to homogenized, commercially safe ways of being bad. But dammit, I can empathize when Childbirth sings about these and other real struggles.
The fact that Childbirth gets these points across while eliciting laughs, only makes the messages more powerful. As individuals increasingly harden their hearts and minds to opinions that differ from their own, they become less willing to listen to stern counter arguments. But perhaps Women’s Rights resulting in a little disarming chuckle is enough to crack those protective shells just ever so slightly to allow the seeds of empathy to enter and eventually grow.