by Jorge Velez
After the heat of conflict, what remains but the words and the teeth. As we retire call out culture and shift toward restorative justice, how do we use language to make meaning from our trauma? Within the queer community, bodies find refuge in each other to escape the pains of larger society, but when the community replicates the same kinds of hurt we need better models of healing. On their album Sink / Swim, Cutting Room Floor, a queer punk band based out of the American Northeast, uses their collective voice to showcase a model of healing for queer youth navigating love in a world so unwelcoming.
“Leviathan” begins the album with the group chanting “when the flood comes are we gonna get free,” evoking the necessity for community within looming fears of change. In singing together, the three vocalists, Ana MeiLi Carling, Fiona Chamness and Alyssa Kai use their collective voice to create spaces where fear is under their control. Despite being young themselves, as a result of the high suicide rates and untreated mental illnesses for queer youth, the group serves as elders in the community, instructing the strength for healing must come from one another. Cutting Room Floor use their songs as platforms to call for radical change: on “Gaining Ground” they sing, “was I invited to reveal or was it to redeem?” In doing so, they both lyrically and sonically acknowledge the difficulties in navigating identities in cisgender male-compromised spaces. They reveal their resistance and strength when asked where they learned to scream, replying in an obvious fashion, “Well I learned right here.”
The band explores the depths of emotion with intense shifts in genre on almost every track on the album. Right when they settle into a soothing movement, the drums will gallop with a sense of immediacy into roaring instrumental sections revealing how stinging and multifaceted pain can be. This is best seen on a track like “The Nightmare Dimension” which moves through vivid recollections of pain with dark dissonant guitars and screamed vocals, or on tracks like “Nero,” where the band yells over raging guitar lines because they want a semblance of safety in their communities. On more lighthearted tracks like “Cry All the Time,” the band juxtaposes a bouncing power pop arrangement against a deep interpersonal conflict to keenly let the listener into the difficulties of wanting love but being unable to accept it wholly due to past trauma.
Cutting Room Floor, in all their anthemic, chaotic and tranquil moments, cover the steps necessary to begin healing. While there’s no conclusion wrapped up with a bow and ribbon, there is not supposed to be one. The raw nature of this album speaks to the veracity of the band’s ability to dissect trauma. By focusing in on the wound, zooming in on what hurts, listeners see how the body begins its regeneration. On closer “Other Oceans,” they discuss the change of pain over time, at first acknowledging in the past how the speaker, “watched my body sabotage me / sink or swim here in the water,” then ending the album with a glimpse of hope, “If you swim I might just reach you.” While this may not be explicit triumph, it is perhaps a more admirable struggle which reveals hope for survivors of abuse, a hope which did not exist before, a hope which comes as a direct result of using the words and the teeth.