Sarah and the Safe Word exists in two worlds, each a century apart. The first is set behind a haze of cigarette smoke in a speakeasy’s back room, where daring storytelling of swashbucklers and a hot rod-racing demon only complements an already theatrical stage show. The second is the basement world of sweat-soaked punk shows and a collectivist mindset, encouraging free expression, sexual liberation, and community without boundaries. With their sophomore LP Red Hot & Holy, this Atlanta sextet attempts to bridge the gap between these two seedy underbellies, updating each in the process with a full-bodied take on well-worn sounds and a steadfast commitment to using their platform to uplift queer voices.
To call Red Hot & Holy a nostalgia trip would drastically undercut its drama and flair, let alone misinterpret its focus. Not many records in 2019 boast a dark tango down a graveyard alley ("Your Mouth Is Only For Complimenting Our Dancers") in the same span as an instructional dance number (“The Louisville Shuffle (RIP)”), just like not many LPs strike with the same bone-rattling clarity reserved for 2000s pop-punk production. Sarah Rose and company also stop over into simmering dark pop on the title track, before stuffing arrangements with string sections dripping with cinematic character, dizzying horn play, and electronica blips fizzing with Victrola crackle. By blending two centuries of musical styles, Sarah and the Safe Word have created something wholly spellbinding—and have written a collection for something larger than themselves. Come along now, the show is about to begin.