At first glance, it appears that There Is No Stronger Sex, the second full-length release from experimental duo Stronger Sex, traffics in binaries. The shimmering pop songs drag listeners toward the dance floor, while the lyrics encourage introspection, examining conversion therapy, dating in D.C., and mental health. But, much like binaries themselves, that would be a drastic oversimplification. It’s an electro-pop album with plenty of nods to EDM. The album is a deep dive into Johnny Fantastic (Br’er, Loi Loi) and Leah Gage’s (BRNDA) personal lives. It’s neither of these things. It’s both. It’s more.
Riffing on the “stronger/fairer” dichotomy of the male/female sex binary, resistance is built into the album’s title and the band’s very name. “There is no stronger sex” initially seems to suggest that neither men nor women are stronger than the other, that there’s a level of equality there. One is simply not stronger than the other. But that doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue, as “there is no stronger sex” could almost be shortened down to “there is no sex,” pushing aside man/woman and female/male as ways of discussing strength and identity and suggesting that, perhaps, we’re all strong, no matter where we fall on the gender spectrum.
This is perhaps most apparent on the album’s second track, “Girltown Strut.” A chronicle of experiences with street harassment, the song is primarily sung by Johnny Fantastic, crooning “I do the girltown strut/ And suddenly someone notices/ And said ‘I’d like to bone you later,’” calling back to times they’ve been catcalled, followed, or threatened walking down the street. Their vocals later give way to Gage running through the catcaller’s playbook, all set to driving, sparkling synth tones. The juxtaposition of the music with the lyrical content does quite a lot to highlight the latent violence present in these kinds of interactions. It’s heavy stuff, but stuff that you can’t help but dance along to.
This is largely the mold for There Is No Stronger Sex: heavily political songs made to dance to. Some are more personal than others (“Dating is Death to the Soul,” “Shock Therapy,” and “Prozac Palace” come to mind), but the personal is political and vice-versa. So when Fantastic cries “I don’t have feelings, too” toward the end of “Prozac Palace,” they’re not just commenting on the numbing effects of Prozac, they’re decrying the current discourse (or lack thereof) on mental health. That this is immediately followed by the most intimate moment on the album—nearly a minute of crying layered with whispers—emphasizes this point, placing listeners squarely in the headspace of someone fighting their invisible battles.
There Is No Stronger Sex does what the best pop albums do: sets questions about what it means to be human to a backdrop of earworm melodies. It’s not always an easy album to listen to, but it’s an album that demands your attention.
Stronger Sex plays a record release show tonight at Comet Ping Pong with Berndsen and Raindeer. 10 p.m. $10.