The record churns with fathoms-deep pain and frustration, but Grace never lapses into self-pity—her embrace of herself as a true trans soul rebel rings with well-earned triumph in equal measure. Transgender Dysphoria Blues isn’t a perfect record, but goddamn if it isn’t an important one.
Harlem River is exceedingly restrained, but there’s something about it, just as there was something about Morby’s live performance, that catches and takes hold, at times even hypnotizes. It’s a record that whispers instead of screams, but the potential is there. It’s a slow burner, but it burns brightly and lastingly. Which is to say that Woods had better start looking for a new bassist.
On “Talking Backwards,” Courtney is in fine confessional form, spreading himself candidly across three minutes of cosy guitar duets and modest rhythms. You can actually hear Courtney disambiguating himself, adjusting his plain old woe (“We’re not getting any closer”) with explanations (“We’re too many miles away”). The song is about a phone call between two lovers, and you feel like Courtney, the king of being honest with himself, is the only person in the world who could make that conversation comfortable.
What makes me most excited about this band isn’t just how hooky they can be without building too much into the process. It’s also how their minimalist approach doesn’t necessarily shrink the ideas that underpin. They’re using space more strategically, but you still get the sense of Big Idea lyrics about sensuality, about ecstasy, about identity.
“Royals” often gets read as a fuck-you critique to pop musicians living in a fantasia of wealth and excess, but it’s nothing so blunt or black-and-white. Rather, the track gets at the deep ambivalence many of us who don’t live in the Upper West Side feel when listening to pop stars cataloging their bottle service receipts. Sounds fun, but what about, say, human insecurity? The song doesn’t reject that lifestyle entirely—Lorde and her friends are “driving Cadillacs in our dreams”—but it also manages to express pride in an anonymous, unmoneyed existence where your address won’t make anyone jealous. That alone is a revolutionary statement in contemporary pop music, and it remains shocking even the five billionth time it comes through your car stereo speakers. Like “Royals,” Pure Heroine is everything our big, dumb pop culture isn’t: restrained, pristine, patient, self-reflective, managing candor without slipping too far into self-indulgence. Not big, not dumb.