Alex Lahey: The Answer Is Always Yes

Alex Lahey made her mark with 2017’s “Every Day’s the Weekend,” a sublime surf-rock ode to calling in sick and making out all day. The mood is buoyant, caution-to-the-wind; still, at the chorus, seconds before letting out a millennial whoop, she wonders aloud: “Are you leaving me?” Two years later, on 2019’s Best of Luck Club, she appeared smitten with a Pontiac-maintenance expert named Isabella, begging the girl, “Don’t you run out on me.” Even at her most joyful, Lahey was the poet laureate of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This time it did. On the blistering breakup album The Answer Is Always Yes, Lahey is “a bit fucked up,” “drained,” with “blood filling [her] mouth”—and that’s just the first song. Isabella is evidently no longer in the picture, as indicated by the venomous lead single “Congratulations,” a reflection on a real-life annus horribilis in which not one but two of Lahey’s exes got married. She writes about indulging in ill-advised coping mechanisms and takes an ”unscripted vacation” at her mom’s place. The general vibe is best summarized by the Real Housewives’ Dorinda Medley: “I’ll tell ya how I’m doing: not well, bitch!

Lahey’s fury is most convincing on “You’ll Never Get Your Money Back,” three minutes of power-pop perfection where she seethes over the indignity of an ex who mooches off her Netflix and still owes her rent. But along with the costs of moving out and splitting up belongings, the breakup saddles Lahey with spiritual debt. The slow-burn ballad “Permanent” spells out her newfound pessimism toward love: “Don’t want to get used to this/In case it’s something that I’ll miss.” And the gutting recollection of queer teen isolation on the grim, goth “They Wouldn’t Let Me In” lends real poignancy to the album’s bitter breakup anthems. Suppose you come out and suffer exclusion from group chats and school dances in hopes of one day marrying a woman. Then she dumps you. Goes on to marry some other woman. What was all that struggle for?

Sometimes the writing on The Answer Is Always Yes is more generic than you’d expect from Lahey. “I let you fake it ’cause I can’t take it,” she sings on the tepid “On the Way Down.” What’s more, her prior work can tower over these new songs; “Shit Talkin’” tries to milk mosh-pit catharsis from the familiar paranoia of “Do my friends hate me, or do I just need sleep?” but it simply doesn’t beat 2019’s “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore.” But Lahey’s gift for imagery shines on songs like the hazy acoustic trip “The Sky Is Melting,” a rowdy story of misadventure: She spars with a deadbeat pal while high on melted weed gummies, trading conspiracy theories and belting out corny yacht rock before vomiting into a ravine. As she contemplates the world through “eyes wider than dinner plates,” the texture of her unraveling is palpable, disquieting.

Closer “The Answer Is Always Yes” sets an equally skillful scene: Lahey’s sucking on a vape pen in the backseat of a car, on her way to her parents’ house for that aforementioned vacation. It’s a world-weary shrug of a song: better to have loved and lost, nothing ventured, etc. All that’s left is the meager assurance that tomorrow might be better: No, your friends don’t hate you. Yes, you need to sleep. Even when the second pillow’s vacant.

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Alex Lahey: The Answer Is Always Yes