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Feature: The Vulnerable and Vibrant Debut Album from Minneapolis' Sass

Sass is Stephanie Jo Murck, Willem Vander Ark, Joey Hays, and Alex Mcormick // Photo by Cleo Pupillo

Sass is Stephanie Jo Murck, Willem Vander Ark, Joey Hays, and Alex Mcormick // Photo by Cleo Pupillo

I remember seeing Sass for the first time, lead vocalist and guitarist Stephanie Jo Murck bounding up the stage strapped with a sparkling guitar and donning rose-colored sunglasses. It was a set with a powerful sort of vibrancy that doesn’t really allow you to forget it. And Sass’s first full length record, Chew Toy, is much of the same…Vivid and relentless. Chew Toy comes in reckonings, with the titular song being the gritted teeth finally opening into a gaping maw. “He was my favorite guy/ I liked him all the time/ He was my favorite boy/ I was his chew toy” Murck sings, reconciling the form of love you may still carry for someone who violated you. Chew Toy has a resounding resilience to it; Murck delving into her own experience with sexual assault as a child, creating a catharsis in listening. The buoyancy of Chew Toy isn’t so much surprising as it is heartening. Sass maintains a subversively cheery sound, reflected in track titles like “See Saw” and “Nice Things.” Though its title sounds positive, “Role Model” captures that moment of realizing that other people expect adulthood out of you when, in reality, getting stick ‘n pokes is your greatest coping mechanism. It’s one of the many peaks on Chew Toy in which we feel literal growing pains. Murck listlessly singing “filling myself with empty calories, what even is an empty calorie?” as Joey Hays’ manic drumming punctuates her sentences. The song reaches a combustive peak before devolving into chaos with Murck’s voice rolling into a squeak. The worry that, if people really knew who you were, they wouldn’t love you underscores this album. On “Gut Feeling,” Murck admits “I still feel ashamed, yeah who knows how to heal. The ways I taught myself to hide instead of deal” before the frenetic guitar and screeching amp give way to her wails. Chew Toy peers over that wall desperately wondering “what’s next?” It occupies that point in life in which we are ambling around without a map just trying to do the right thing. This doesn’t mean that Chew Toy is devoid of joy, there’s a playfulness to it that seeps in on songs like “Minutes” where Murcks bouncily taunts “When you’re desperate and horny come on and whore me” and the band chants “horny” in harmony before the track’s sudden end. On “Freshwater Pearls” Murck spreads her Pisces energy and claims water as her greatest healer (a common theme throughout the album). There’s a sweetness hovering right above the debut that keeps it all from collapsing in on itself. Chew Toy is steered by the steady bass line of Alex Mcormick, not to be tipped by the staggering, wayward guitar of Willem Vander Ark. It’s all wonderfully lopsided, with Murck’s elastic voice expanding and shrinking like the musical equivalent of a rubber band snapped against the wrist. Her malleability is part of what makes Chew Toy such an addictive listen. Murck can be stretched thin, clenched tight, or totally snap— and it’s that volatility that propels this defiant debut. At times the guitars of Murck and Vander Ark become indistinguishable from Hay’s drumming, all merging into a fever break. From the moment Murck screams “I want to do everything” on the opening track, you can feel the frustration to the vivacious energy. The vulnerability displayed on Chew Toy isn’t so much spilling your guts as it is flipping your stomach inside out. This debut is tremendous and tender and ragged, it’s a mouth holding you gently on its tongue until you’re decidedly let loose. Chew Toy is not so easily discarded as the title suggests.

Chew Toy is out this Friday, May 31st via Heavy Meadow Records— Pre-order it here.

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