“From the start, my vision for (SISSY XO) has been to create the most vulnerable and emotionally violent form of expression that I could,” Leda opens up to me in a text interview.  “I wanted to express my anger and hurt and internalized self-hatred outside of metaphors or lyrical value.”  

In 2021, after having played together a decade before in a thrash band, Leda XO and Nikko Whitworth came together during the pandemic to write their first song.  In March, they released the track “the violent cracking of an egg,” a brutally honest song about love, trans pain and joy, and suicidal thoughts that opened the floodgates for extreme queer music.  

A few months later, in a partnership with fledgling cybergrind label Big Money Cybergrind, they released a live recording, appropriately named our first set ever“Those early days of this project were so magical because we both felt so completely unrestricted by genre laws or scene expectations, or anything like that,” Leda wrote.  They released one more live EP later that year, our second set ever, before going dark for a bit while both worked with other projects, but silently, they were secretly working on their debut album.

I wanted, at first, to review this album in order of when songs were released; when the single debuted, when the second single debuted, so on and so forth…but it doesn’t feel right to do so.  Public Humiliation is such a complete experience that to review any of the tracks out of order would be a massive disservice to the emotional labor and heartache that went into what is a piece of artistry untethered by convention and  made all the better for it.

Track one begins with a sample that says “I’m in so much fucking pain.”  For all the wacky titles on this album, “i learned how to be a girl by watching jack black in the jumanji reboot and I don’t know how to tell him” does not hold back on brutality.  As soon as the instrumental hits, we get glitchy synths over shredding guitars and thunderous blast-beats, topped off with Leda’s intensely pained vocals paired with traumatically poetic lyrics.  Leda recalls “Lyrically speaking, this album is highly inspired by a string of related and unrelated circumstances that have taken place over the last 18 months of my life,” and it doesn’t hold back, tearing through the pretense and facsimiles to present itself as honest as humanly possible.  “I can hear how much I was struggling at the time (of recording this track) and that makes me feel both uncomfortable but also proud. I’m proud of creating instead of destroying.”

Released as a single on March 21st, “trans panic defense! at the disco” combines drum machine grind, mathcore riffing, and sassy vocals, over an emotional outpouring of love lost. “(The song) really stands out to me as the kind of perfect amalgamation of what we’re doing on PUBLIC HUMILIATION,” Leda exclaims. “It’s chaotic as fuck, and really sassy. It was also one of the first set of lyrics I had written for this project and kind of informed me of what I was going to be writing about. It was the well I stumbled upon that I would drink from for the next few months.”  And indeed, the album continues at an unrelenting breakneck pace.

“dying of old age at 29” is equally chaotic, but rather than traveling off into different BPMs and movements, the song is a quick burst of unrelenting frustrated grind energy, thrashing and shredding over blast beats as the incredible vocals rain over, spiraling tumultuously between sassy recitation of poetry to relentless and brutal screaming.  Capped off at the end are some of the most intense high screams over sludgy, chugging guitars before coming to a rapturous crescendo.

“jumping into a woodchipper live on national television” is a devastatingly kinetic track, reminding me of Converge and Botch in many of its little intricacies while remaining something wholly unique and beautifully ugly.  It’s really a testament to Angel Marcloid (fire-toolz) and her unique way of mastering a project that every element feels complete, both alone and as a whole.

“keep staring at me like that and I’ll fuck your dad” is a classic part of the SXO library, first appear on their live our first set ever  EP.  At just under a minute, it comes together so efficiently, telling its story at a breakneck pace, ending just when it needs to, and leaving a deep impression on the psyche.

“it’s not okay to bite people you don’t know” is a bit of a reprieve; bassy synths over gentle picking makes for a tranquil interlude, like the come down stage of a panic attack.  It doesn’t last a long time, but it’s exactly what you need before chaos erupts again.

With a deceptively calm beginning, “my favorite seasons” bursts into a frenetic audio assault at around the minute mark, blasting you with machine gun-style drums and throat-shredding highs in a track that even the slower parts are at an unmatchable pace.  How Nikko writes songs with such a masochistic structure while Leda effortlessly performs over them is mind-boggling.  If I didn’t just hear this song, you wouldn’t be able to convince me that humans performed it.

With its noisy intro turning into a relatively sludgy and slow track, “drinking bleach inside the capitalist washing machine” quickly switches back and forth between speedy blast beats and chunky and slow riffage.  A little over halfway through, a oboe solo begins, leading to not only one of the craziest instrumental bridges ever, but also one of the most jaw-dropping transitions I have ever heard in grindcore.

“high-functioning piece of shit fuck-up” embraces cybernetic noise and bleeps as it oozes out painful experiences.  “Within the binary obsessed system of simple choice making… Thanks for all the options / We get to decorate the room, but the room is airtight and it’s getting hard to breath” wraps everything together so tightly and truly encapsulates the totality of emotion that makes this album shine so brightly.

Acting as a chaotic, almost chipper alternative to its sister track, “it’s okay to bite people you know” is jazzy and upbeat, with minimalist drums, ascending chords, and some of the craziest noodling I’ve ever heard.

“the violent cracking of an egg” sees a bit of a rework, updating the instrumentals, production and the vocal performance, really etching in just how painful and necessary the journey of self-exploration, especially relating to the trans experience.  And in appropriate fashion, the track goes in every which way direction, breaking down at the end into its most bare parts, naked and exposed, entirely and horrifically honest.

The final track, “rules are like ankles, they’re meant to be broken,” is less a set of lyrics and more like a declaration.  While the instruments are intricate and draw from a multitude of genres, their main purpose is to help deliver the final set of lyrics:

“I will not kill my parents’ daughter.

I will not kill my brother’s sister.

I will not kill my partners’ partner.

I will not kill the friend of my friend.

I will not kill THC’s vocalist.

I will not kill Jisei's vocalist.

I will not kill SISSY XO’s vocalist.

I will not kill myself.”

Ultimately, through all the pain, the anger, the anxiety, the heartbreak and failures, this is the most triumphant album I have ever heard.  Nearly three whole years after their debut, SISSY XO comes back, alive not because of their experiences, but in spite of them - no, TO spite them.  There isn’t a more ugly and honest approach to being trans, to being different, to being ostracized, and coming out the other end, covered in blood and holding your organs inside of you, but alive nonetheless.  I have heard this album a dozen times, and every time I feel everything, from the exhilarating highs to the ever-so-triggering lows, and it’s worth every second of pain.

I’m gonna let Leda take it from here: “We intend to tour more and more as we figure out how to survive in this harsh ever-frosting world. Reach out to us if you want to do something together. If you made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you enjoy the album, please consider supporting it in any way that makes sense to you. From two broke, queer musicians… thank you thank you thank you. Fuck transphobes. Fuck racists. Fuck zionists. Fuck homophobes. Fuck misogynists. Fuck bigotry. Fuck capitalism. Fuck the police.”

PUBLIC HUMILIATION is out now on Bandcamp. Tapes and CD's to be released through Big Money Cybergrind.

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