New York-based band Bethlehem Steel was named Consequence of Sound’s artist of the month for September, and appeared on NPR’s New Music Friday, as well as getting attention from places like Rolling Stone, NPR, FADER, Stereogum and Billboard for their 2017 debut Party Naked Forever. They have previously toured with a bunch of bands you’re likely aware of including Spirit of The Beehive, Pile, Big Ups, Guerrilla Toss, Strange Ranger and Stove.
This new record is the first release since the band became a four-piece by adding Christina Puerto, who has become a co-songwriter with frontwoman Becca Ryskalczyk. Their relationship is central to the album, with Becca describing it as an illustration of the power of female friendship as a force in overcoming trauma.
“This record feels like a real leap for Bethlehem Steel…this record runs really deep.”
Bethlehem Steel’s sophomore effort is a dense 34 minutes of hard questions and harder truths, all delivered with [a] combination of nuance and abandon.
Consequence of Sound
“[Becca Ryskalczyk] captures a sort of Rust Belt malaise in her music that makes everything feel rundown and past its prime…the album, largely operates in a full-speed-ahead stumble, towering songs that rush to keep apace with Ryskalczyk’s cavernous voice.”
“[Bethlehem Steel] pair hooky choruses with an illegal-basement-show energy.”
“Becca Ryskalczyk’s truly soaring voice makes Bethlehem Steel truly stand out.”
“[Bethlehem Steel] fucking rule.”
LISTEN: to Bethlehem Steel’s self-titled sophomore LP
Brooklyn’s Bethlehem Steel are releasing their sophomore LP on Exploding In Sound. Hailed on NPR’s New Music Friday today as “a real leap” for the band and a “record that runs really deep,” the record was previewed yesterday in a Track by Track feature with Consequence of Sound, who have named Bethlehem Steel their Artist of the Month.
READ: Bethlehem Steel’s Track by Track with Consequence of Sound
In support of the release the band are announcing an extensive US tour that includes dates with their Exploding In Sound label mates Kal Marks, and begins today with a release show at Brooklyn’s Trans Pecos. Full details can be found below.
Formed in 2012 out of a long-time friendship that singer/guitarist Becca Ryskalczyk, drummer Jonathan Gernhart and bassist Patrick Ronayne forged through nights spent at the Brooklyn DIY venue Shea Stadium, Bethlehem Steel released their first LP, Party Naked Forever in 2017. Praised by outlets like NPR, The FADER and Stereogum, and followed by a similarly buzzed about split with fellow Brooklyn DIY scene stalwarts Washer, Bethlehem Steel’s debut made good on the promise of the band’s early EPs, and saw them tour extensively, sharing stages with bands like Spirit of The Beehive, Pile, Big Ups, Guerrilla Toss, Strange Ranger and Stove.
The album was written and recorded over a two year period by Ryskalczyk while splitting time between her brother’s house in Florida and Vermont, before fleshing out the arrangements with her bandmates back in Brooklyn. The songs were often intensely personal, and the solitary exercise of writing them left Ryskalczyk seeking a more collaborative writing process, one she found with the addition of a new member to the band, guitarist Christina Puerto, who joined Bethlehem Steel while they were touring in support of their debut. A close bond quickly formed between the pair, and that relationship has brought forth a new chapter for the band, with Ryskalczyk and Puerto’s collaborative energy providing the animating force behind their self-titled sophomore album (out September 13th via Exploding In Sound) – a release that serves as guide, of sorts, for those reaching towards self-empowerment, and an illustration of the transformative power of female friendship as a force in overcoming trauma.
“A lot of the lyrical content on this album is uncomfortable,” Ryskalczyk says. “It’s about men, and being taken advantage of, or abandoned or fucked over. I’ve been playing with the boys in the band for many years and they have always been sympathetic to my experiences, but there are certain things about what women experience that they will never understand, and having another woman as part of the band brought a different comfort and a sense of solidarity. Based on what’s happening in my life, I would still probably have sung about these things, but I don’t know what it would have been like without Christina. It wouldn’t have felt as powerful.”
The bulk of Bethlehem Steel is a stark look at toxic relationships and their effect on mental health, and its songs derive power from their unflinching approach to difficult topics. The pulsing, string-abetted “Couches,” which simmers for over half its runtime before exploding into a tangle of lead guitar parts, is a cutting appraisal of the worst parts of a suddenly absent family member, while the almost entirely spoken word track “Not Lotion” is a cathartic and rawly emotive expression of anger in the face of restrictive societal expectations. The single “Gov’t Cheese,” which is centered around Ryskalczk’s repetition of the mantra “I must take care of myself,” confronts a history of complicated friendships with men, with Ryskalczk and Puerto’s surprisingly sweet vocal harmonies belying the song’s frank reckoning with the vulnerabilities that are preyed upon in many of these negative relationships.
“When I wrote this I was looking back on a lot of toxic and abusive male relationships that I’ve had,” Ryskalczyk says. “A lot of them made me smaller and were holding me back from becoming a stronger woman. Sometimes you can still feel like you’re emotionally held hostage by them while trying to find a way to be there but at a distance.”
While the album’s lyrical depth and immediacy are readily apparent over Bethlehem Steel’s 10 tracks, the overall song construction and instrumentation is where Puerto and Ryskalcyzk’s rare chemistry is most apparent, and perhaps where the album’s greatest strength lies. Similarly, “Empty Room,” one of three songs on the album (along with “Read The Room” and “Sheryl”) which debuts Puerto as a second writer in the band, presents a sense of cognitive distortion, with unpredictable percussion patterns, guitar licks and melodies that mirror the chaos that can ensue from mental health issues debilitating your regularly scheduled programming.
It’s an exhilarating listen, and with the transition from a trio to a four piece, the sound of a band finding another gear as they change shape and mature as songwriters and musicians. Taking stock of your experiences and your emotional health in solitude, can be an empowering task, but enlisting the assistance of allies certainly never hurts, and Bethlehem Steel’s sophomore album is a testament to value of togetherness in difficult times.
“It’s important that this record is something that we did together and that we grew within, and I think the album artwork by Nicole Rifkin shows that” says Ryskalcyzk. “Christina and I met at a time when we were both processing painful things in our personal lives, and through writing together we were able to provide each other with strength and support, while also turning those feelings into something more cathartic. Hopefully in sharing the record we can connect with people, and they can connect with that strength.”
Bethlehem Steel will be released via Exploding In Sound on September 13th. It is available for purchase here.
2. Govt Cheese
3. Empty Room
5. Not Lotion
6. Bad Girl
7. Read The Room
8. Four Aliens
10. New Dark
11/9 LA @ Ham and Eggs
11/11 Phoenix @ Lunchbox
11/12 Santa Fe @ 2nd St Brewery
11/14 Tulsa @ soundpony
11/17 Cincinnati @ Motr
11/19 Pittsburgh – Roboto
* = w/ Kal Marks