With its simple but insistent guitar pattern and sweet, breathy vocals, "Bimbo" -- the opening track on the Coathangers' sixth studio album, 2019's The Devil You Know -- sounds as if the hard-edged all-female garage-punk trio have taken a sharp detour into indie pop. That is, until someone hits the distortion pedal at the 45-second mark and things get a whole lot tougher while the vocalists start to howl. However, as the band got neater and tighter on 2014's Suck My Shirt and 2016's Nosebleed Weekend, they've continued to clean up their act on The Devil You Know, and they've matured into a power trio that generates a lean, muscular groove with some sharp guitar work adding texture and the melodies more tuneful than before. If the Coathangers have swapped out some of their punky scrap for instrumental competence, though, they seem to know it, and on The Devil You Know they're clearly open to finding other ways of maintaining an edge. The righteous rage of "F the NRA" helps make it one of the album's most effective tracks; the echoey unease of "Stranger Danger" cuts deep; the dubwise space and clouds of noise in "Step Back" show this band has been learning a few things about production; and "Memories," "Last Call," and "Hey Buddy" demonstrate that experience hasn't changed their ability to put together a strong and straightforward rock & roll tune and make it run. In a genre where too many bands either repeat themselves into pointlessness or lose the plot when they figure out what they're doing, the Coathangers have cracked the code -- they've grown without "maturing" into blandness, and they've changed without forgetting how to kick hard. One might not have expected the Coathangers to still be making interesting music 12 years after their debut album hit the streets in 2007, but The Devil You Know reveals growing up doesn't have to be a bad thing after all.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming