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Feature: Goth Lipstick Curates a Cinematic Fantasy World with 'formless, shapeless'

By Isabel Corp

In January of 2021, San Francisco-based hyperpop duo Goth Lipstick released their debut album crystalline corset via Bandcamp –– it’s a bombastic trans feminist coming-of-age pop record that combines the emotionally introspective songwriting of Third Eye Blind with the quintessential bubblegum-bass of SOPHIE and A.G. Cook.

But there was no way that the band could have predicted the domino effect of overwhelming praise that the album would receive on the heels of its release. And while frontwoman Francesca Fey is certainly grateful for the amount of attention that record has brought to her band, she is wary of not letting the praise go to her head.

“It wasn’t like one specific moment when I realized the album was going beyond my immediate circle of friends. It was all these little things that I can look back at as pretty monumental and gratifying,” Fey recalls of that time before going on to say, “At the same time, though, I’m still quite buried within the DIY scene, and I continue to carry that mindset with me.”

Not too long ago, Goth Lipstick released their sophomore album, formless, shapeless, and it appeared at the top of Bandcamp’s list of “Best Selling Noise Pop” in less than a week. The album is a film-like dream sequence inspired by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Vince Staples, and clipping., packed with grandiose production and airy, hypnotic vocals, Throughout, it creates a stark contrast between emotional highs and lows through gritty, coarse basslines, computer blips, and abstract-yet-sentimental lyricism that highlights Goth Lipstick’s signature brand of storytelling that blends autobiographical non-fiction with fantasy and sci-fi.

Inspired by Fey’s favorite anime and the Japanese Isekai literary genre, the album narrates a story of two wraiths on the run together, getting transported into a fantasy world. “The Miyazaki films My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are two of my favorite works of art of all time,” Fey tells me. “I am always chasing to write an album that evokes the same cinematic awe as those two films.”

The track “identity thief” opens with a synth bassline so blustering and aggressive that it’s guaranteed to leave every listener reeling within the first five seconds. Its Trent Reznor-esque abrasive sonic-assaults feed through a candy-coated tunnel of left-field industrial pop, pioneered by the likes of Grimes and Charli XCX. The lyrics (“Skin like water, body of ice/When I’m someone else, there’s a place I can hide”) highlight the malleable plasticity of identity that hearkens back to SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.

The band’s revised cover of “chocolate,” the 1975’s crime-fueled ode to rebellious youth and chemical romance, suits the album surprisingly well. Theirs is a much more modern take on the song, trading catchy guitar hooks for pulsing basslines, coated in synth slime. “I wanted to write a song about [two wraiths] getting super high together and falling in love, but the only way I could truly represent that kind of experience was with a song written by people who had been through it themselves,” Fey says of the cover.

The peak of the album is the fifth track “fangs,” a reckless and masochistic assault with lightning-speed, glitching drum patterns that rear their heads in a sporadic manner throughout. The penultimate track, “faceless, nameless,” takes after My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep,” accompanied by Fey’s feathery vocals and fuzzy Kevin Shields-esque riffs that Fey claims she achieved by looping one chord progression (I V IV in F) throughout the song. It eventually builds to a climactic guitar solo that is accompanied by earth-shattering screams, eventually culminating in fading piano, naturistic white noise, and shiny percussive droplets.

The final track, “forever,” is forty seconds of utter silence. The song can easily be compared to something by John Cage, but Fey would slightly disagree: “He might have subconsciously influenced that track, but it has a completely different intention than ‘4’33,’” she tells me. Her aim with the track was to make “the ultimate love song,” that can be performed at any time no matter how far away the lovers are or what technology and instruments are available. In life, our most reflective moments are often the quietest, and after being taken on a whirlwind of a sonic trajectory that blends the slice-of-life sentimentality of John Hughes with the cinematic oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki, a silent ending feels fitting in order to fully absorb the immersive listening experience of a euphoric dream sequence found with this album.


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