Standout Track: No. 2, “Woman with a Black Eye”—a, yep, ballad about hard moments between victims and their reluctant observers, the kind that can’t be sorted out by Miss Manners or the Bible. The tune is straight-up country—it even has the word purty in it—but it nods at its urban origins by layering in ambient sounds from the alley behind the Rosedale house where the band laid it down. Otherwise, it’s a simple chord cycle and a hooky little refrain that appropriates the rote melancholy of any chorus centered on the word hallelujah.
Musical Motivation: Stripmall frontman Phillips Saylor drew from his interactions with abused women in his Northeast neighborhood. “It’s a very difficult, painful thing to see,” Saylor says. “And sometimes if you stare, and they see you, and they know what you’re thinking, some people…give you that look where it’s like, ‘Fuck off, don’t judge me.’” Saylor says he wrote the chorus—“What do you say to the woman with a black eye?/Hallelujah sounds so sad”—after listening to the hosts of a Christian radio talk show discuss God’s role in facing tragedy. “They really cooked it down to all that matters is ‘Hallelujah, Christ is risen,’” Saylor says—a mantra too tidy to allay the paralyzing discomfort of those brushes with injustice.
Sucker Punchline: Saylor says he wrote “Woman with a Black Eye” to break the silence that stalks domestic abuse and its victims. But it’s always a toss-up as to whether an audience will buy into the gravity of the song. More than once, Saylor says, someone in the crowd has interrupted the chorus after “What do you say to the woman with a black eye?” by yelling, “Nothing—you done told the bitch once!”