‘Carnage Bargain’ opens on a fire siren with the full onslaught that is ‘Face First’, a raucous track that’s hyper-aware of what’s around the corner. From the off the Paranoyds establish their ability to take up room, there simply isn’t space for any other sound to exist once they’ve signaled go. ‘Carnage Bargain’ is infused with the whims of a Scooby-Doo chase scene, but it’s far more conclusive in finding its villain – namely technology. The titular track announces “it’s live from your device!” in reference to the wannabe monarchs and tech overlords who seem to be dictating the rules of this country. Ironically, Staz Lindes (vocalist and bassist) and Laila Hashemi (vocalist and keys) attribute their earliest stages of friendship to shared Myspace usage. Now they agonize over the peril of the digital lens. Their revulsion for the system of mirrors they live in overtakes this album.
Hailing from LA it’s easy to see why the Paranoyds might be, well, a little extra paranoid than the rest of us. In a state outnumbered by tech companies, where it’s theorized mass server farms are blended into the nearby suburbs, it would be easy to feel constantly watched. And that feeling is matched sonically with the Paranoyds wiring a campy B horror flavor though the album. Equal parts kitsch and grit, it’s an instrumental fever dream. The sweet and sour pleasures keep ‘Carnage Bargain’ from collapsing under its own unease. Yes ‘Ratboy’ contains a hypnotic keys solo, but there are tracks like ‘Bear’ with moments of undulating muck that eventually grasp the arm you held just out of reach.
The music video for ‘Hungry Sam’ looks like it was shot on a flip phone. It’s deliciously repulsive, displaying Hashemi with overly contoured makeup spittling over her lips as she encourages viewers of her deranged cooking show to concoct a mix of glass shards, hair, and meat for an addictive drink. Her dedicated audience smashes bottles on each other and scrounges for hair around their drains to become just as hungry. The song a reminder that everything is a commodity, everything is consumable, their own words included. ‘Egg Salad’ also deals with insatiability, Lindes drawling “Little girl has got an appetite / Don’t care where it’s from she’s picking up tonight”. The track dares you to ask yourself what you’re really consuming and what you’d be willing to do to have more. The things we do out of hunger are often misconstrued.
Suspicion and scrutiny punctuate ‘Carnage Bargain’, There’s a fidgety feeling to the album, a fear of surveillance, of having behavior monitored or censored. And when you’re not a man, that gaze seems doubly magnified. The band’s specific brand of feminism might best be surmised by the decadent video for ‘Girlfriend Degree’ in which a sleepover that involves shaving with Reddi Whip and combing each other’s armpit hair devolves into nightmares of heteronormativity played out by the band’s Barbie look alikes. Taking on a ditzy role Lindes brags “It’s easy if you let it be / Went to school got a girlfriend degree”, her feigned ignorance the solution to sexism.
There’s an anxiety regarding submission that paces through. Submission to gender roles, to hunger, to a smiling evil. The Paranoyds must hurt their neck always looking over their shoulder, afraid to be the next person subsumed by late stage capitalism. ‘Courtney’ is an ambivalent jam looking to feel something that could temporarily alleviate redundant nothing. “Courtney’s got cash / And she don’t care” they harmonize, glossily reinventing Johnny Cracked Corn.
There is a blunt nature to ‘Carnage Bargain’, always observant. But that doesn’t make the album any less visceral. ‘Carnage Bargain’ is immediate, manic, seeing the threat of narcissism and voyeurism and trying to warn everyone in time. It’s a funhouse mirror of an album that leaves us feeling like the Paranoyds are trying to fend off inevitable doom with a deliberate belligerence. Each track is unexpected, off-kilter and stumbling towards you with a beckoning finger. The Paranoyds leave the trap door open, it’s your choice whether or not to fall with them.
Words / Sage Shemroske