Published Feb 22, 2021Black Dresses were a duo from Toronto that blew expectations of pop music out of the water, culminating in 2020's Peaceful as Hell. The duo of Ada Rook and Devi McCallion had collaborated with Backxwash and contributed to 100 gecs' recent remix album, bringing more much-deserved attention to the boundary-busting act. But just as they were starting to break out, they broke up. Now, they've returned from the beyond to deliver a new album as a present to hungry fans.
Forever in Your Heart might give you whiplash, but its unpredictable genre-switching makes for a high-octane listen full of more fun and rage than anything Black Dresses have done before. The record is so painfully sincere that it's next to impossible to listen without wanting to break everything in the room.
Rook and McCallion stay right in your ear, whether they're giving you Purity Ring-style cooing, Trent Reznor's growly whine, or the unbridled screams of the Assistant. Industrial percussion and chugging metal guitars set the foundation for the album, calling to the harsh mania of Sleigh Bells and the crushing production of Ministry. Notably, Rook sounds blasé enough to drop the mic until she busts into a full-fledged scream, a focal point of the album's idiosyncratic mashup of metal, EDM, glitch and pop.
As always, Black Dresses stay relatable through blunt, existential lyrics and splashes of tongue-in-cheek humour. On "We'll Figure It Out," they sing about the anxiety of being part of a generation left to deal with "10,000 years of problems" before launching into a ludicrous dance breakdown. The album's drowning in desperation and frustration, with lines like "I don't give a shit if it doesn't work / I've done a lot of things and none of them worked. / We're fucking in a trap!"
On the first song, "PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!," they ask, "Can we make something beautiful with no hope?" But there's no answer. If anything, Forever in Your Heart reads as an angry eye-roll at the nuisance of living in a cis-heterosexual, patriarchal society. It's a funeral for childhood dreams, an ode to apathy, and a reflection on what it means to have a physical form — topped with a wallop of absurdist fun.
The members of Black Dresses, both trans women, write often about the pressures of conformity. This translates in their music, with electronic disruptions standing out on tracks like "Bulldozer." Its droning beat is set to an iconic chorus: "My pussy like a bulldozer / Drilling and grinding / My pussy like a blown-out speaker / My pussy like nothing at all / So it doesn't matter." McCallion laments, "I wanted to be like the other girls / Now I'm just like the other girls." There's no joy in it — and Black Dresses lives inside those let-downs. This shows through the pair's vocals, which oscillate between blown-out screams and nearly catatonic talk-singing.
Even with the inclusion of softer tracks throughout, there is no reprieve from the emotional whirlwind that is Forever in Your Heart. It's auditory overwhelm at its finest, but there's so much dynamism and intention to unpack that you can listen five times over and find something new with every play. It's a party bag of influences grounded by too-cool-to-care vocals, making for a combination of sounds that's unforgettable and incredibly satisfying.
Despite its coolness, Forever in Your Heart holds an intentional conversation. "People try to tell you your place in it / But isn't that just for them?" they write on the last track, "(Can't) Keep It Together." Again, there are no answers here, just a question — a peek into the lives of the people behind the music.
There are surprising moments of vulnerability on Forever in Your Heart, bringing listeners close to say goodbye. "I'm a person inside a person inside a girl / I used to be million different things for a million different dreams and hopes / But now I'm nothing," they write on "(Can't) Keep It Together." The word "pain" comes up over and over again on the album, but it's no pity party. If anything, Forever in Your Heart is the freakish magnum opus of Black Dresses, sure to inspire the next generation of experimental musicians and fans. (Independent)