Review: Sabrina Is Not In This Chat – “Not Recommended For Sensitive Skin”

The winningly minted L.A. experimental trio Sabrina Is Not In This Chat has supercharged, grandiose ambitions. And on its debut full-length LP – Not Recommended For Sensitive Skin, out late last month via Penniback Records – the group largely succeeds in reaching for and attaining them, producing an hour-long body of sometimes-arhythmic, occasionally herky-jerky math-punk whose surface of “accidental” collisions hides the complicated constructions and intents that lurk below. If you give yourself over to it, you will see its inherent brilliance.

I’d love to summarize the “typical” Sabrina Is Not In This Chat song herein but there’s nothing really all that terribly typical about any of them. The structure is math-rock complexity as filtered through garage-punk fuzziness, a welcomed kind of mutant. It should be noted that the record also has an infectious little sense of humor and playfulness. (In addition to lyrics and delivery that present as wonderfully off-hand, there’s a kind of casual, even at times clumsy or drunken, edge to the transitions between verses and choruses. And, yeah, then there’s the piano-pounding opener, complete with laughter.)

There is no guiding light to Sensitive Skin. Even the musings and colorful posturing of frontwoman and guitarist/vocalist Olivia DeBonis don’t really “front” the trio; this is the sound of the collective, three people moving, as awkwardly as need be, as one. There’s something bizarrely organic about it all and, even when the trio thrashes (to great effect on “Clean”), it abhors the cleanliness of precision for the raw thrills of the off-tempo surge. This effect is amplified on tracks like “Hyena” – think Killdozer by way of early Don Caballero, just stripped largely bare – where the group belies its influences with sure-footed homages to post-punk and math-rock heroes of years past.

And the thing, thank God, lacks glue. Bassist Maddie Calderon is surprisingly dexterous, adding a leatheriness/rubberiness to drummer Sienna LaMere’s sometimes-restrained percussion, and manages to sound at times like Les Claypool and at other times like Ethan Buckler circa Tweez. But she hardly holds together the proceedings; she is not the foundation or the backbone, so much as another piece of the puzzle. And that suits this record quite well. There’s an inherent sense of danger and abandon to Sensitive Skin, much like the whole thing could fray or topple at a moment’s notice, and that makes the moments where everything beautifully collides, well, beautiful – albeit in a distorted, atonal kinda way.

Music like this doesn’t rear its head often. When most musicians happen upon moments like these, they tend to polish them down hard until all that’s left is the sheen. Sabrina Is Not In This Chat is not interested in smooth surfaces, God bless ‘em, and  instead traffics in complicated music that disguises itself as more simple, even more naïve, than it really is. The result is excellent fodder for all of those who feel the future of experimental rock is alive and well – turn your eyes, good friends, to the Left Coast. Sabrina will meet you there. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, Feb. 8, 2019

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