Never mind the title: prettydarksexymusic is Pearly’s playful dream-pop debut EP.
An up-and-coming alternative pop duo from Ohio formed by Josie Yeager and Austyn Benyak, Pearly have just put out their first-ever EP. Blatantly knee-deep in self-awareness, they have titled it prettydarksexymusic. As you have probably guessed by now, it’s at times pretty, at times dark, at times sexy music.They have been compared with Julee Cruise for a reason, although the title is more resembling of that last Lykke Li album. Needless to say, Pearly appear half-naked in their press photos, fittingly taken in black and white. Hidden somewhere in his parents’ house, the guy from Cigarettes After Sex is wishing he would’ve come up with prettydarksexymusic as an album title a few months earlier.
Fortunately for us listeners, all the self-awareness and playfulness painfully lacking in Cigarettes After Sex and other similar cringey, softboi music are actually present here: to start with, Pearly’s album blurb simply states that prettydarksexymusic “magnifies their success and launches them into the heavens of fame.” Though this sense of humour is not a central part of their music, the liveliness with which they approach their instruments is. For a dream-pop record, this EP is surprisingly groovy and spirited.
Something that usually comes up while discussing American Midwestern alternative music is its dusty, drunken quality. This is particularly true of the music made by bands from Ohio, whether it is Guided By Voices’ lager-powered bluntness, Red House Painters’ sad-bastard slowcore or the distorted yet melodic sexual explosions of The Breeders. Pearly, however, don’t operate in this realm at all. They trade with the familiar currency of dream-pop instead, but they do so from heterogenous approaches. At times, their music directly evokes the work of Chromatics, Beach House or Mazzy Star. It does so with commendable proficiency. The starry-eyed acoustic-guitar-led ballad “To Me” might be the highlight of the EP, but there might be an argument for Pearly being a better band when they get more lighthearted and mischievous.
Though the lovely interplay of guitars by the end is not without its merit, “This Hurt” is entirely dominated by its bassline and synth work, instantly invoking New Order’s merger of post-punk and dance. “Machine Song” works even better in favour of this argument, starting out as an ambient track only to take a radical left turn towards a grunge-y kind of dream-pop. Every instrument is buried under layers of distortion, and the angry, ugly riffs they play are more Smashing Pumpkins than My Bloody Valentine. At least that’s what happens for a while – by the end of the song, it has been transformed into a casio-and-guitar bedroom serenade.
For all the deadpan vocals that deliver pensive melodies and the wistful instrumentation they’re bathed in, it is this stern refusal to stick to a single mood that ultimately defines Pearly and separates them from similar acts. They are especially reminiscent of Mr Twin Sister, who started out as a more-or-less average late 2000s buzz-blog band and ended up being one of the best and most interesting dream pop acts of the 2010s, bringing in jazzy grooves and diverse instrumentations. While there’s something commonplace about prettydarksexymusic (it’s titled like that for a reason, people!), it stands out as an adventurous, melodic, and at its peaks, unlikely fun EP. Stream via Spotify and buy via Bandcamp.