A lyrical whirlwind revs under an inconspicuous hood on Vagittarius' debut self-titled EP. Armed only with banjo, guitar, and harmonized vocals, the Tulsan duo is capable of rocking a bar or two, but it is the biting emancipation in the songs themselves that drive Vagittarius into truly fierce territory. The lo-fi tendencies of the sonic mix give the EP a nice grit, too. A more fully arranged recording would have been preferable, but since the band is considering this more of a "demo," it's understandable why, for instance, there is barely any percussion on this release.
Soft opener "Blame It on the Moonshine" hangs on the stripped framework of a single 4/4 tambourine thump and nothing else. It showcases the big, bold voices of the two leading ladies while teasing the unfettered lyricism to come. The song revels in what its title implies--alcohol and poor decisions. Amusing and honest outcomes deliver on verses like "Guess I got the nerve to dance but my feet had other plans / Ended up eating concrete." The tone of the song smartly teeters between denial and acceptance, but always underneath a nonchalant attitude that rings true for the subject matter.
The next track, a hunky dory porch jam called "Everything is Terrible (Except You)" has a similar nonchalance. Set against flat, moderately tempoed bass fifths, the opening line "I believe people are cruel, narcissistic selfish wastes of space" is funny if only for the juxtaposition. This is the verbiage one expects from a shouty hardcore punk frontman, not a bluegrass songstress. The song goes on to foretell the destruction of planet Earth while proclaiming over the chorus that "You're the one that I want by my side." It plays like a quirky love song, but given the group's affinity for bucking old-fashioned standards, it probably isn't one.
The strongest cut of the six-track effort is "Baptize," a ferocious meld of Christian imagery and revenge. It's also about rape. Handling such heavy and conflicting ideas could prove messy for a tune that clocks in at under 3 minutes, but Vagittarius pulls it off. In this take, the narrator promises to "baptize you in the name of every woman / Ever haunted by your touch," and later, "When the bubbles all cease / I will find my sweet release." The conceptual songwriting is on point from start to finish. If there's anything worth rethinking, it's that the music is a bit too similar to the preceding track for it to stand out as much as it should. This also uses banjo upbeats and bass quarter notes, though it is at least a bit more dour.
"Mind Over Matter," a moody 6/8 ditty, introduces a focus on minor chords as it segues into the record's latter half. This song doesn't wear its scars in full view like the prior ones. While it's clear that heartbreak is the topic at hand, much of it is conveyed in a more abstract manner. "Stark melancholy, flailing in folly" and "Sweet indecision, fraught over precision," for instance, are wordy. The occasional jumble, though, plays to the strength of the song, which is about finding a stable mentality in the wake of emotional wreckage.
The final two songs invoke more sinister imagery while taking more of a storytelling approach. "Witch of the Wilds" is a thinly veiled metaphor about society, exile, and simply not putting up with either anymore. The chorus brazenly belts "I'm coming down from the mountain / Y'all grab your pitchforks now." "Never Again," on the other hand, is more subdued and similar to "Mind Over Matter" in its melodious melancholy and guarded songwriting. It begins with the line "Last night a demon rolled into town" and carries on to detail an ongoing battle rife with war-related symbolism. The album's best lyrical moment rests in the chorus: "For the worse or better / He tattooed a suit of armor on my soul."
For listeners that haven't been trained by the music industry to discriminate against unpolished audio mixing and unconventional folk/country lyricism, there are plenty of gold nuggets to be found on Vagittarius. Every song is a winner. The two leads in Vagittarius appear to trade songwriting duties, and this goes a long way to ensure the band isn't one-note. They strike a balance between loud hardheadedness and quiet introspection; together, they find cohesion in the overarching themes of the EP, namely the purging of bitterness, acceptance of self and circumstance, and, of course, smashing the patriarchy.