Model/Actriz’s Debut Album Dogsbody is Pitchfork’s Best New Music
On its debut album, the New York band’s expertly contained noise-rock din is the perfect foil to frontman Cole Haden’s white-hot charisma.
In Model/Actriz’s music, sex is everywhere and might sound like anything—a meltdown in a crowded train, a terrible fight heard through the wall, the crunch and squeal of two colliding cars—but never, at any point, does it sound like very much fun. Lead vocalist Cole Haden howls about bodily desire as if it were a loathsome, all-consuming affliction: “With a body count/Higher than a mosquito,” he wails on “Mosquito,” the album’s first single and statement of intent. Lust as contagion, as predation, as Biblical plague: Both as performer and writer, Haden aims to make a harrowing, provocative, often hilarious mess of all of it, and succeeds wildly.
Although Dogsbody marks their debut full-length, recorded largely during the pandemic and released via True Panther last week, Model/Actriz have been stunning small New York audiences since their formation in 2016. Live, Haden prowls the stage and wanders into the crowd to confront audience members, while behind him, the band unleashes an unholy but expertly contained clatter and blare, Ruben Radlauer’s drums and guitarist Jack Wetmore’s sculpted shrieks merging into a single sensory assault. “Everything is a drum,” said bassist Aaron Shapiro succinctly when asked about the band’s approach.
On the surface, their sound recalls early-’00s New York dance-punk bands like Liars, but Model/Actriz are a touch too haunted to slot neatly into the ongoing “indie sleaze” movement. The lyrics sheet writhes with clenched palms, bit lips, shut eyes, ragged breaths, trickling fluids—sex scene as slasher film, as Grand Guignol. Haden has told interviewers that he started writing their “sex positive” material while still a virgin, and the lyrics ring with the wide-eyed terror and religious ecstasy of recent initiation.
Haden doesn’t sing, exactly. He declaims, his delivery landing somewhere between impassioned moan and battlefield soldier’s dying grunt. “Delicious/And everything’s gushing/Ripe and crimson,” he mutters on “Mosquito.” “All night/Me and my wretched device,” he shrieks in “Donkey Show.” Some of the lines are so ripe they feel ready to drop off a tree: “Doric colonnades leading up the drive/Staring down the verdigris covered faces of the divine.” If there was a wink in his delivery, the whole thing would collapse into giggles, but Haden’s devotion to his chosen aesthetic is unblinking and fearless. He’s the perfect host, a magnetic and unlikely blend of Joel Grey from Cabaret and the Jesus Lizard’s David Yow.
Haden has cited the musical Cats as lifelong inspiration and said the album is meant to “feel like my life, as a cabaret: a very earnest, kind of ridiculous, melodramatic, homespun opera.” In the album’s most charged moments—on the subdued “Divers,” for instance, 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 once suggests itself.
The players’ precision attack and Haden’s white-hot charisma help explain how a band so devoted to stirring up bad neurochemicals winds up offering such a tremendously good time. Any exploration of hedonism’s rot and underbelly ought to contain a fair helping of hedonism itself, and Dogsbody is a party, no matter how panicky and wild-eyed. The songs are sequenced like an extended mix, with some tracks fading directly into each other—the final line of “Crossing Guard” (“Oh it feels like/Oh it feels like…”) segues directly into the first words of “Slate” (“…Like pressure”). At the teeth-grinding climax of “Crossing Guard,” Haden invokes Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga (“Germanotta”) asking for them to “pull the weight from under me.” It’s a spiritual callback, maybe, to the “Greta Garbo and Monroe” bit from Madonna’s “Vogue,” a roll call of pop-cultural saints. Haden has called the album “a violent ode to the explosive joy of being alive,” and in moments like these, you feel the will toward communion rearing its head in even the darkest and ugliest of corners.