Iowa City West High alum Kate Feldmann’s Belly Belt isn’t miles away from her day job dressing as a Disney Princess for children’s birthday parties. She adopts personas, she plays make-believe, she toys with identity as she did on her previous album, Bangers. The dominant sound in the arrangements on Stay True is the ebullient arpeggiation of the Suzuki Omnichord, which is strummed with a fingertip on a metal plate. Every sound, word and gesture is intentionally synthetic and artificial, but paradoxically sincere.
The opening tracks, “Blood On Your Hands” and “Stay True,” have a dreamy girlish quality. But “Ocean Baby” has a thrashy punk rock sound that’s at the center of a triangle with the Beach Boys, the Pixies and Bikini Kill as its vertices. There’s some first-rate screaming on the hook line, “Come ride the waves with me.” It’s kind of an abstract ocean, not the actual salty expanse off of the coastline.
Going yet another direction, “Ooh Baba” is both a song title and the only lyric. She channels Britney Spears’ white-girl melismas with random screams, giggles and horse whinnies dropped in for effect, before an indistinct noise — traffic? ocean waves? — intrudes. The repeated drum-machine and electric piano loop is catchy, but the repeated nonsense lyric and gratuitous melisma are an ironic commentary on girl pop cliches.
In “What Did I Say,” Feldmann’s raucous, distorted voice lays down the law: “Consider me when I say this, and you better do as I say because I’m the dad.” The deliberately crappy synth lead and Casio drums are punctuated by jarring blasts of electronic noise.
The repetition of “Baby” in song titles and lyrics (“Ooh Baby,” “Ooh Baba,” “Ocean Baby”) seems like a comment on the infantilization of women in pop music while embracing it. The music on this EP toys with a sort of “joking/not joking” irony when it comes to the image of a female pop artist. Feldmann wants to be Britney Spears or a Disney Princess both sincerely and ironically. What she is as a result is both and neither; the listening is never 100 percent easy.
Stay True revels in its shiny plastic surface. The sound of Feldmann’s voice gets twisted, sometimes by emotion and sometimes by audio effects processing. The EP’s title seems ironic and sincere at the same time, a scream from the heart and an elaborately-constructed joke. With no fixed meaning, and the performance of emotion instead of its direct expression, Stay True is like a Miranda July movie — you feel that something important is happening even if you have no idea what’s going on.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 214.