Music Review: Sharptooth – “Clever Girl”

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April 27, 1984, Twisted Sister released their infamous glam-metal resistance anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to the world, igniting a sense of strong defiance among Generation MTV. With clear and concise words Dee Snider roared “We’re Right, We’re Free, We’ll Fight, You’ll see” into the speakers of the budding, seemingly individually devoid, youth. Decades later after all the teased wigs and face makeup has been washed off, a new voice has joined the musically charged cavalry with a slew of precise points of their own. Sharptooth’s Clever Girl, released Feb 11, 2017, is the violent eruption of social frustration mutually felt by members of the band Lauren Kashan, Lance Donati, Keith Higgins, and Phil Rasinski.

Throughout Sharptooth’s first full release, we hear the full destruction of Mansplainers, Racists, Xenophobes, and more; something that’s been so desperately needed in our musical community in our ever developing age of “Social Justice Warriors”. The stigma that shrouds the calling of acceptance and inclusion of queer based lifestyles, dismantling of misogyny, even removing the disfigurement surrounding addiction, has needed to be outcasted from our Punk society for far too long and Sharptooth unabashedly took on that challenge. All too often, our generation has been told that either “Racism is over”, “The Police are not out to get you”, “Women have been made equal”, and/or “I don’t have privilege”. The band counters that argument by means of biting calculated truths along with riveting and bright co-conspiring composition so that you are begrudgingly incapable of missing their point.

The theme of Clever Girl is outlined right from the beginning with its’ opening track “Rude Awakening”. Like a velociraptor unwillfully detained, pacing in a cell not built for habitation, Sharptooth begins to build it’s musical velocity with their dingy bassline, throbbing rhythm beats, honest harping, and sneering guitar feedback impatiently waiting to be released from its’ cage. Once the explosion of tightly packed C4 emotions light up the surrounding space that is our minds, the band quickly searches for its first targeted victim to devour.

Clever Girl, the title track of this atomic release, goes right after feminist-bashers. “I’m through with being nice” is an opening line that accurately describes the entire nature of this album. Forcefully engaging on points of sitting down and shutting up when the marginalized individual has the floor instead of giving condescending opinions on subjects one is not immersed in, “Clever Girl” splits the cranium of ignorant informers and screams educated oppressed perspective directly into their oblivious brain. With Kashan in the driver’s seat, Donati, Higgins, and Rasinski provide such an exhilarating speeding trip through hell, musically plowing through any individual who foolishly stand in their way of spreading well intended knowledge. There is no questioning how bad this band is looking for social reform with lyrics like “My mouth is dry, your blood is wet” and “Your only value is the fun I’ll have when I rip out your insides”. Even in the songs final breath, the intention of victory against ignorance at any cost can be found in the battle cry“Dead men tell no tales; Dead men talk no shit”.

Going into the next track “Give Em’ Hell Kid”, Sharptooth stresses the call for justice with a unified front. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police”, presumably from the 2015 Maryland Protest against police brutality, kick off the song following the classic antagonizing question “It’s in the air, can you feel it”? Less aggressive in temperament, “Give Em’ Hell Kid” serves more of a pulpit discourse for raising our hands in outrage against injustice when it’s seen and not staying silent. Instrumentally it’s very jammy and welcoming, yet still, possesses the heaviness of hardcore elements to retain its’ strong lyrical content. In what seems to be a blatant explanation of “White silence equals Black violence”, Sharptooth recognizes the powerful position they’re in by means of education and self-awareness. Kashhan sings clearly “Cause even with all my privilege, If I cannot trust, what kind of life does that mean for all the rest of us?” plainly using the term “us” to remind the populace that this isn’t just a fight for one; it’s a fight for all.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, many have speculated an influx of politically charged music to combat a seemingly tyrannical governmental figurehead; Sharptooth very well might kick off the new creative outburst with its song “Fuck You Donald Trump”. While the song deliberately paints a strong description of Trump, the other lyrical components of inequality, collusion between corporations and congressional members, transcend one individual. The governmental beast that occupies Sharptooth’s backyard is dangerous and the band does well in conveying that message.

“Can I Get A Hell No” continues to snap the spine of those who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Muted aggression lays dormant in the cut, blaring with anticipation like a predator staring in the eyes of prey moments before launching its attack. With a strike of a Tom and a sharp intake of air, death looms the poor souls who continue to catcall and objectify women. The combative lightning that engulfs this composition backs the biting tone of its narrative perfectly with callused declarations like “So many of us living like we’re under attack, so don’t act so surprised now that we’re fighting back”. The ending of this track is also enjoyable with Sharptooth scaling back its’ hostility, adding some glam vibes into the final screeches of “I’m not your baby girl”, and Kashan slipping and sliding in-between yelling and singing, providing proof that they’re fun, reasonable human’s with a silly streak despite the blood dripping from their teeth.

The next two tracks “Jesus Loves You” and “No Sanctuary” are the most powerful tracks of this release. Kevin Swanson speaking at the National Religious Liberties Conference opens the track to “Jesus Loves You”, preaching that homosexual beings within the Lord’s Kingdom should be put to death. As the song continues, an imaginative reconstruction of fear and confusion plagues a space that Donati, Higgins, and Rasinski have managed to emulate. Nagging, slightly unsettling, worrisome in feeling play alongside the bigoted Swanson for two and a half frustration expelling minutes, leading into the dark reality that is “No Sanctuary”. The shrieking voice of Kashan has yet to falter and seems to hit peak levels of anger in this song. Taking a seriously dark turn, Sharptooth gets right to the point with its description on how homophobic and queer hate within religious sects lead to violence and isolation. Chilling lyrics illustrate the truth with lines like “If you think you can walk the world a blameless man, it doesn’t matter if the gun was in your hand. So when you speak perhaps you think that you have the power to save, but all you’ve done is justify the ones who’d see us to our grave.” It is by far the darkest written track on this album and one of the darkest subjects we face around the world. While the haunting theme of the song ring true, the passing influence of Powerviolence and Death Metal turn this song from a raging lament into an engagement of war. The same influences and frankness can be said for the following song “Left 4 Dead”, an empowering influential speech to encourage survivors of sexual abuse.

“Rise” solidifies the unified call for change- for a social revolution. Constant reminders that we’re all in this struggle together backed by a musical tone that can be described as pleading and humble, makes this track the most genuine on the release. “What are you waiting for?” is asked over and over and over, begging for attention. The actions we can all take to better our society can be virtually effortless as long as the general body that makes up activists is large in numbers; Sharptooth is well aware of that. The time is now, “We will not wait for the sun to rise.

The most interesting track on this album though is “Blood Upon Your Hands”, which was completely unexpected. The pangs of addiction is something that I’ve personally have had to endure in South Jersey for years, watching friends and family emotionally breakdown after learning the passing of loved one due to substance or alcohol abuse. The heroin epidemic we’re all facing has been approached with so much stigma and ridicule that those affected by this disease feel shunned from the rest of our local communities; that shouldn’t be the case. ‘Blood Upon Your Hands” sings about one of the most heart-wrenching topics within the punk community that often goes unsung, posing thoughtful questions like “So would you spit upon my grave and tell me that I deserved it”? They are proving to be the voice of the people with every song.

To close out this bloodbath of an album that is Clever Girl, “Pushing Forward” tickles me happy with it’s Pop Punk Hardcore fusion to make up this conclusion. It’s the final explanation on why we’re here, raising our hands toward the evils of the earth, and plunging into territories that want us, the marginalized minorities, on the outskirts of their world. It’s an open letter to those who don’t exactly see why we protest, why we march, and why we scream. The melodies are bright, warm, and familiar as if to demonstrate a sense of true togetherness. The best stanza in this song could be “For my whole life I’ve been afraid. But bravery isn’t fearlessness at all. It’s being terrified and pushing forward anyway.” with a gang vocalized “…So I’m pushing forward!” for an added layer of solidarity.

Clever Girl is exhausting for the ignorant and energizing for the vigilant. As a Queer Black man inside the Punk+ music community, finding individuals to trust and make sure they have your back regardless of social climate is hard; other similar marginalized groups feel the same way. Sharptooth from Baltimore, Maryland have proven from a personal aspect, musical aspect, and an informative aspect, they are members to trust. Lauren, Lance, Keith, and Phil are people who are forthright in the fight for equality on all spectrums. The four of them show zero signs of wiping the blood off their snarling mouths with “Clever Girl” and I hope others will eventually be blood stained alongside them.

Last modified: February 21, 2017