In Model/Actress’ music, sex is everywhere and can sound like anything: a collapse on a crowded train, a terrible fight heard through the wall, the creak and screech of two cars. that collide, but never, at any point, sounds like much fun. Lead vocalist Cole Haden howls about bodily desire as if it’s some sickening, all-consuming affliction: “With a body count/higher than a mosquito,” he says. regrets in “Mosquito”, the first single from the album and a declaration of intent. Lust as contagion, as predation, as biblical plague: As both an actor and a writer, Haden aims to make a heartbreaking, provocative, often hilarious mess, and he succeeds in spades.
Although Dogsbody marking her full-length debut, recorded largely during the pandemic and released via True Panther last week, Model/Actress has wowed small New York audiences since its formation in 2016. Live, Haden prowls the stage and wades through the crowd to confront the audience. members, while behind him the band unleashes an unholy but expertly contained rumble, Ruben Radlauer’s drumming and guitarist Jack Wetmore’s sculpted screams merging into a single sensory assault. “Everything is a drum,” bassist Aaron Shapiro said succinctly when asked about the band’s approach.
On the surface, their sound is reminiscent of early 2000s New York dance-punk bands like the Liars, but Model/Actress are a little too obsessed to fit right in with the ongoing “sleazy indie” movement. The lyric sheet twists with clenched palms, bitten lips, closed eyes, gasping for breath, dripping fluids: sex scene like a slasher movie, like Grand Guignol. Haden has told interviewers that she began writing the “sex positive” material while she was still a virgin, and her lyrics ring with the terror and religious ecstasy of recent initiation.
haden not sing, exactly. He declaims, the delivery of him landing somewhere between an impassioned groan and the dying grunt of the battlefield soldier. “Delicious / And it all springs / Ripe and crimson”, he murmurs himself in “Mosquito”. “All night / Me and my wretched device,” he yells at himself on “Donkey Show.” Some of the lines are so ripe they feel ready to fall from a tree: “Doric colonnades leading to the road / Looking down on the verdigris-covered faces of the divine.” If there was a wink in his speech, everything would collapse into giggles, but Haden’s devotion to his chosen aesthetic is unwavering and fearless. He is the perfect host, an unlikely and magnetic mix of Joel Gray from Cabaret and the David Yow of Jesus Lizard.
Haden has quoted the musical cats as a lifelong inspiration and said that the album is meant to “feel like my life, like a cabaret: a very serious, ridiculous, melodramatic, homemade opera.” At the album’s most charged moments—on the subdued “Divers,” for example, when he whispers the line “I seem to find it/But not within myself”—he sounds earnest, even operatic. But it’s a measure of the band’s swagger and confidence that the word “ridiculous” never suggests itself.