It’s cliché and sometimes downright offensive to reference a band by its members’ identities. In simpler terms, as the great L7 once said, “gender is not a genre.” They’re right. On the other hand, identity is, well, identity. It’s who we are. We can embrace it or ignore it. San Antonio-based Fea chooses the former. The self-styled ‘Riot Grrrl Chicana Punk’ named their band the Spanish word for ugly. Formed by former Girl in a Coma drummer Phanie Diaz and bassist Jenn Alva, Fea made their perspective clear. The first two tracks from their self-titled debut were, respectively, the menacing “Mujer Moderna” and the rollicking “Feminazi.” That album was filled with four-to-the-floor stompy punk accompanying sharp lyrics sung in Spanish and English. It’s fitting that Joan Jett signed the band to her Blackheart Records, and it’s no surprise that Iggy Pop gave them a shout-out in Rolling Stone.
Fea maintain that same energy and feminist sensibility but expand musically on their sophomore release, which was produced by L.A. punk legend Alice Bag. The 10-track, 30-minute No Novelties features more intricate arrangements and harmonies. New guitarist Sofi Lopez seamlessly shifts from catchy riffs to snaky guitar lines and back again, often within the same song. Vocalist Letty Martinez hits all the right notes whether singing in English an ode to touring life in the opener, “Itch” or in Spanish about the wage gap in the call-and-response, “Ya Se.” Hell, the first single, “Let Me Down” features a three-part vocal harmony over a slippery beat. While the album makes clear that Fea are indeed No Novelties, the closing track really drives home that point. The surf rock-twinged “Girl Band” illustrates the absurdity of unsolicited questions and comments about being female musicians. Martinez sings, “What’s it like being in a girl band? / Is it anything like being in a regular band?” Multiple voices respond, “Close!” before a squealing riff cuts into the chorus, “No novelty / hey!” How ’bout that for an identity – no novelty.