A hard-and-fast rule we all seem to agree on, but also hardly ever follow through with, is that things need time to grow and develop. Especially in our digital age, where our attention spans are depleted and the phantom pressure to move on when something doesn’t work immediately is at an all-time high, the idea that we should take a moment to both accept and appreciate what something is while also being genuinely excited for what it will be is almost an art. And this is true of everything, right? Think of the number of hobbies you’ve started and stopped because the learning curve was just slightly too steep, or the number of TV shows you’ve started that got better later on, but only because they were given time to find a level of sustainable quality—have you seen SEINFELD? That first season is, well, rough, but it’s cooking by season three. The opportunity to simply try, with the result being anything less than perfection, is in short supply these days.
Mannequin Pussy were pretty dynamic right out of the gate—2014’s GP certainly had the sturdy bones of a noise rock act with a ton of future potential. And even going back to 2016’s ROMANTIC, it’s easy to see how and why I thought so highly of it at the time; the whole album is a checklist of progress and wish-fulfillment from the debut (what any good sophomore album should do, but often doesn’t) by offering both lighter songs that offered more hooks and pop appeal in equal measure with rougher-edged songs built around explosive, snarling bursts of rage and noise. ROMANTIC should have been, in the indie rock narrative, a peak—surely a lackluster third record, “back-to-basics” fourth record, and a “no really!” surprisingly okay fifth record were around the corner.
And yet PATIENCE is the embodiment of that hard-and-fast rule we all seem to agree on but never follow through with, a reminder that narratives are meant to be bucked. Certainly I can’t remember the last time an artist released two singles from an album that were both Song of the Year contenders (with no research, “Numbers on the Boards” and “Nosetalgia” from Pusha-T in 2013 fit this bill), but based on the strength of both “Drunk II” and “Who You Are” alone you could simply tell Mannequin Pussy were reaching a level thought previously unimaginable.The songwriting and the lyrics were immediate and rewarding and melancholy in ways the act’s previous records weren’t, a tonal shift into something that sonically just felt deeply personal to accompany a complex and physical journey about bodies and touch and romance and, frequently, heartbreak.
When Marisa Dabice seems to have found some sense of solace by the final track, “In Love Again,” the tense journey to that point has been so markedly and profoundly harsh that you are both relieved and also a bit scared for the cycle of the record to start over. And that harshness is less communicated in ways that were kinetically musical as it was in the past, although quick, face-punching bursts keep the sequencing on its toes with traces of the group’s early intense outbursts on tracks like “Drunk I” and “Clams.” The vocals here are cleaner across most of PATIENCE than they were across the fuzzier and feedback-laden previous albums, and the lyrics ring out with a damning sense of importance, as though the decision to push Dabice forward in the mix came from a place of emotional frustration: “I was getting swept into emptiness / I was taking time, I was practicing living with regret / Something you’re so good at” (“Drunk II”), “Who told you that my body was yours to own? / And long before you called, it was crawlin’ through the wild / And after gettin’ in my head / Convinced poison was supposed to grow” (Patience”), “I fucked up, how many times will you beg me to? / Your world’s on fire, as I watch up from my high horse / Your world’s on fire, and I walk away” (“F.U.C.A.W.”).
And even though all of PATIENCE is worthy of combing through lyrically, frequently the songs are just elevated by simple moments that are easy to be swept into, like the devastating uptick and cathartic rush on the delivery of “Wish I was somebody else” on “Who You Are,” or the world-beater intensity of “What did you say to me boy!” on “F.U.C.A.W.” My favorite track off of ROMANTIC was the title track, in part because it was pretty and devastating in equal measure, the way watching fire can be powerful and beautiful and terrible all at once, and that immeasurable feeling is stretched out across the entirety of PATIENCE. One of the album’s prettiest cuts, “Fear/+/Desire,” captures that feeling singularly, a soft acoustic strum giving way to a calculated and rocky plunge of pain, before returning to something simple and hopeful.
PATIENCE is remarkable, a fourth quarter, seconds-left-in-the-game buzzer-beater for best-of-the-decade lists, an emotional and unfuckwithable powerhouse that I get chills listening to even a month after its release. And I’ll be frank: I just didn’t see this coming. If you’d have told me Mannequin Pussy, a band I enjoyed quite a bit but hardly listened to out of album cycles, would be putting out a world-beater like this, I’d probably have questioned it. But that’s why we have to trust the process, and let art and artists grow, and PATIENCE is a somewhat unbelievable and bombastic masterpiece.