Thin Lips’ Riff Hard Refuses to Let You Run from the Truth

Anika Pyle (Chumped, Katie Ellen) found the Philly band’s debut record to be almost too real.

Honesty is complicated. It usually does not come smoothly or easily. It quivers, it hesitates, it drives, it hits, it accepts, it settles. It hurts. But being true, excruciatingly and inevitably, leaves you better. More whole. Harder.

Riff Hard, the debut LP from Philadelphia-based band Thin Lips, is honest rock.

The record harnesses the sweeping inertia of constant riffing — the dynamic building up and breaking down of music that is not quite punk, not quite indie, but solidly rock & roll — as a vehicle for the soulful and emotional delivery of the denial, acceptance, anger, pain and peace implicit in truth finding. Thin Lips master relentless and energetic instrumentation that positions them next to contemporaries such as Tenement, Diarrhea Planet and Titus Andronicus. They merge head-banging rock songs with painfully relatable lyrics about the anguish of accepting the end of love, the reality of loss and the process of self-definition in the aftermath.

Produced by Chrissy Tashijan and long-time friend, collaborator and fellow bandmate Kyle Pulley, Riff Hard is a glowing indication of growth and evolution in partnership. Chrissy and Kyle formed Thin Lips in the aftermath of their previous fuzz-pop project, Dangerous Ponies. It is a powerful and striking departure. Thin Lips is more focused, more straightforward, harder, faster and angstier. Chrissy’s vocals were washed over by sparkle and tambourine in Dangerous Ponies, more delicate and sweet. They unabashedly take the foreground in Thin Lips; she obviously has something to say and she will be heard. The louder and faster instrumental landscape serves her message effectively.

Recorded at Kyle’s own Philadelphia studio, Headroom, Riff Hard showcases his skill in engineering and producing and Chrissy’s evolution as a producer, songwriter and front person. The record is tight and intentional. There is no fluff. With most songs under or around three minutes, Thin Lips packs an expertly crafted and concise punch. With Mikey Tashijan on drums and Chris Diem on guitar/additional riffing, Thin Lips have arrived at something more candid and raw that hits harder, sounds braver and rings more true than Dangerous Ponies.

Chrissy’s vocal delivery seems to embody the saying, “Speak the truth even when your voice shakes.” Her subtle croon gives way to anthemic, middle-finger-worthy lines that effortlessly invite a crowd sing-along.

Lyrically, Riff Hard follows the process of grappling with the reality of a struggling partnership. There is denial [“D.E.B”], yearning [“Total Separation”], anger [“My Mouth is Skinned Like an Apple”], confusion [“What’s Wrong”], remorse [“Breaking Up and Breaking Down“] and acceptance [“Never Again”]. The narrative is familiar to anyone who has loved and lost, who has lost themselves in love. There is a special magic in discovering a songwriter who says what you’re thinking but are too afraid to say. Each song on the record is a letter to my past lover, bravely narrating the feelings I couldn’t quite articulate or the despair I was too cowardly to share, the ways in which I had suppressed my inner sense of truth in attempt to keep the status quo: “I’ll love you best/I’ll love you quick/I’ll put everything else aside and maybe that will do the trick” [“What’s Wrong”].

Chrissy blends poetic phrasing, “I was struck deep with an arrow/harboring my greatest sorrow/You can’t expect to draw blood from a stone,” with point-blank, biting statements such as “I won’t settle for anything” and “I’m not your baby, I’m not so crazy.” These affirmations are paired with melancholic reflection that otherwise could be considered trite but ring earnest, carried by Chrissy’s sincerity. Even something as simple as “What do you love?/What could you want?/What’s wrong?” gives you that sinking feeling of earth-shattering reality leaving you, literally, shaking your damn head.

Instrumentally, Riff Hard indeed riffs hard. So relentlessly that it makes you question whether it riffs too hard at times. There is impressive and awe-worthy guitar work in every verse, every chorus. Yet, some of the most powerful songs are those that let their riff guard down more often than not. The sparse intro of “What’s Wrong” showcases the agony in Chrissy’s voice, making the instrumental buildup at the song’s finish that much more powerful, reiterating that things hit harder in the quietest of moments.

I could speak at length about why this record moves me personally, but only in private. To converse openly and specifically about it would be all too painful and entirely too real. I suppose that is why Riff Hard seems so special. It tells a story that many of us wish we had the courage to own and share. The energy and urgency of the record allows you to defuse your anger while processing your pain. Thin Lips, at times tender and exposed, sometimes angry, always courageous, gives you space to feel massive doubt and triumphant recovery, refusing to let you run away from the truth.

Anika Pyle is a double virgo feminist who is not afraid of her feelings. She fronted the recently retired pop punk band Chumped and now steers the helm of her latest project, Katie Ellen. In addition to writing songs, Anika writes non-fiction and poetry. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.