I first heard Mal Blum play earlier this year at a sold-out show in the cozy enclave of Portland’s SPACE Gallery opening for Lucy Dacus. And, it was clear from the buzz in the room that I was late to the game.
Late to the game, perhaps, but not late to the party, because the jangly chords of Mal Blum’s set transported me straight back to my 90s-era youth and the indie/alternative bands that reigned in upstate New York suburbs. The infectious blend of punk, pop, driving guitars, and melodic hooks is all there on Mal Blum’s fantastic new album Pity Boy.
Growing out of Mal Blum’s acoustic folk roots, Pity Boy feels and sounds like a statement album. Not a chest-thumping announcement screaming “Here I am!,” but a statement of new direction, different intention, and clear confidence gained from the road already traveled.
Even with the newfound pop-punk potency of the record — driven by the screaming riffs of lead guitarist Audrey Zee Whitesides and the tight rhythm section of Barrett Lindgren (bass), and Ricardo Lagomasino (drums) — Blum’s bracing, candid, anxious, unsettling, triumphant, all-in lyrics remain the key that define and unlocks the group’s music.
Mal Blum’s website notes that this record “offer crashes of loneliness and sparks of euphoric recognition that will feel familiar to many surviving in 2019.” Truth. Even as many of the strongest lyrics deal with Blum’s lived experience as a non-binary transgender individual (and taking nothing away from the unique power and pain wrapped up in those lyrics for the LGBTQ community), this is a record that painstakinly details the full sweep of raw, messy human emotion.
For all of Blum’s angst and searching and wryly humorous, defensive self-deprecation, it is their strength that sticks with me. I got shivers when they played Things Still Left to Say on that small stage in Portland and wailed “I’m still here / And, you’re still here / We’re all still here!” It’s a damn anthem.