“Santa Librada takes its name from the patron saint of Las Tablas. … Legend has it that Librada prayed to become unattractive to escape an arranged marriage. She grew a beard, the marriage was called off, and her furious father crucified her. As a result, her fame as a saint rose in the 14th century, but she was decanonized in 1969.”
Indeed, the Baltimore rock quartet Santa Librada has one of the neatest name-origin stories around. That passage comes from the band’s website, where you can also find the explanation for their song “Something To Say” (“an urgent call to silence trolls”) and a brief description of the band’s oeuvre (“Santa Librada’s powerful songs speak to feminist, trans, and queer themes, but also addresses love, sex and the surveillance state”), among other things. It all amounts to a simple fact: They are unapologetically out of flips to give.
And it’s glorious. Tremendously glorious.
As is their debut, self-titled LP. Featuring songs with titles like “Warfare Queen” and “Unfit Mutters,” it’s abundantly clear that the punk-rock ethos within each of these four women will never die. It’s not as uproarious as the Sex Pistols, but it sure as hell feels as defiant as anything Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten could ever dream of doing, and that attitude speaks volumes much louder than any electric guitar could ever muster. Their aggression is key, and their key unlocks aggression. It’s a marriage in rock and roll heaven.
“Open Me Up” sets the temperature for this sweat-filled room, opening the record in a relatively subdued fashion, opting for a consistent simmer before the pots and pans heating up on the stove truly explode. Singer Rahne Alexander vaguely echoes a voice like Geddy Lee, her popified operatic tremolo rising and retreating with effect and purpose. Rounding things out is Kelsi Loos’s crescendoing guitar that ultimately proves to be the band’s secret weapon time and again.
Case in point would be songs like the moody “Damn Your Eyes” and the poignant “Child Bride.” While both are driven by the excellent pocket-playing from bassist Colleen Pelser and drummer Sharon Santos, Loos’s sparse, tasteful guitar work through the verses gives the production a rounded atmosphere and pop sensibility that takes the songs to new heights. The proverbial cherry on top is Alexander’s ability to never hold back, turning that smooth croon to an aggressive scream as the latter’s hook opens up and there isn’t a single prisoner that she agrees to take.
That pugnacity is never better than it is on the aforementioned “Something To Say.” Musically as punk-rock as Santa Librada get, the singer shines as she insists her sparring partner to “shut up, you just shut up, shut up, I got something to say.” Then, bringing her performance down to spoken word, she gets angrier, asserting, “Seriously, what are you going to do when the power goes out? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do: You’re going to stand there with your hands down your pants, which is disgusting.” It rivals only, “Guess what? You don’t have to have a hot take on every little thing. You can actually just sit and take in information” as the best stanza this album provides. It’s beautiful audacity.
Almost as memorable is “Unfit Mutters” with its exciting uptempo and impeccable dynamism. As Santos’s solid playing reverberates energy into the performance, Alexander steps up with aplomb, spitefully insisting, “I’m, I’m not crazy for you. I’m not crazy about you.” It wouldn’t work if you didn’t believe her as much as you do, but it’s that honesty that lends these women a rare authenticity. There isn’t a word that comes out of her mouth — or a note that echoes from any of these instruments — that isn’t both sincere and hard-won. You don’t trust her because you want to; you trust her because you have no other choice.
It’s the same with “Mud In Yr Eye,” “Sugar” and “Oracle.” While the first two opt for the in-your-face approach, winning hearts with every crack of the snare drum and snarl of the voice, “Oracle” builds itself around Pelser’s interesting bass line, finding the groove with Santos’s stylish drums. Beginning with a tale of a gray, rainy morning, the band proves its ability to utilize subtlety and delicacy all while keeping its imperative edge. By the time the chorus comes around, and the funky, bluesy pauses emerge, it’s hard not to hear a band come into its own as an absolute force of nature.
Which, of course, is what Santa Librada is: A blatant, infectious, unrepentant, essential, subversive force of nature. And if these 10 songs are only the beginning, this quartet is nothing less than a storm you’ll want to head out on the porch to watch. Why? Because each flash of lightning, crack of thunder, each gust of wind draws you in closer to the eye of the gale, ready to infiltrate your soul without apology or remorse.
Let it Rahne down, friends. For this band is so much more than a neat name.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***