For each song on Nots’ debut album, there’s a word or phrase that makes itself prominent, forcefully. Most of these are ripped from the song’s titles: “insect eyes,” “decadence,” “reactor,” “strange rage,” “static,” “psychic talk show.” They’re used as bludgeons, shouted by multiple voices, often lobbed with disdain or disgust. Obviously, there’s a lot of punk rock utility in catchy, abrasive, oft-repeated two-word hooks—when several people shout “black mold” in unison, you pay attention. With these kinds of choruses, they come out of the gate with undeniable power, but Nots aren’t merely offering a surface-level veneer of “creepy” or “strange.” Natalie Hoffman, Charlotte Watson, Madison Farmer, and Alexandra Eastburn are, at times, incredibly bleak. They’re letting you know that they’ve lived through some shit.
Here are some of their points of reference: a person stumbling in the dark while consumed by rage, joyless posturing, blank smiles, blood on the lawn, decay—the names, faces, stories, details, and circumstances behind their songs are unclear, veiled behind minimal poetry and symbolism. That’s why every song encourages a few deep listens with the lyrics sheet in hand—there are so many subtle turns in their words, and when you look closely at their stark phrasings, it’s clear they communicate quite a bit.
Regardless of where it’s coming from, We Are Nots is fueled by its deep well of anger and frustration. Listen to how they yell; they’re sick of being complacent, of watching people walk around with an unwarranted smug ease. Nots don’t have time for that, and their brand of “weird punk,” as Hoffman summarized it during a Memphis morning TV segment, lends an ominous attack which reflects that tone. Every member of the band plays a role in adding heft and urgency to complement the lyrics. There’s Farmer’s persistently ominous bass, Hoffman’s swirling and echoing hellscape guitars, Watson’s unrelenting bash, and perhaps the most imperative weapon in Nots’ arsenal, Eastburn’s ever-present synthesizer. So often, synths in punk music are an afterthought with a definitively tertiary spot behind the guitars. Here, it plays a prominent role in forming each track’s overall tone.
Eastburn’s presence also gives the band more freedom to go long. The Memphis band’s debut 7” arrived late last year—four muffled, lo-fi tracks that were vicious and raucous. Under their initial lineup (Hoffman, Watson, and Laurel Ferdon), they delivered great songs. Still, they felt definitively like 7” songs—succinct, loud, and powerful, but too primitive and punchy to carry an entire album. Like so many other bands in the garage punk sphere just putting out their first single, it was unclear whether or not they could transition naturally into an “album band.” They did, though—We Are Nots succeeds because Nots have evolved. With Watson moving behind the drums, they’ve got a stronger backbone. Eastburn’s synthesizers expand the band’s scope, making their songs feel more fully realized and giving the band more freedom to go long. On “Reactor”, for example, Hoffman takes her time with a few well-placed guitar stabs; she wouldn’t be able to do that without the band’s newfound synth sprawl.
The biggest obstacle they face with their first long-player is that We Are Nots is clearly set in its ways. The synthesizers, the gang vocals, their approach to choruses—it’s all reasonably similar across these 27 minutes. Even Hoffman’s vocal style, thrillingly furious in its from-the-gut delivery, doesn’t vary too much. But the structures, stories, and overall tones differ enough from song to song that this never feels like a monotone slog. They’ve created a surefooted, aesthetic defining opening statement.
“Don’t act like you and I would get along,” sings Hoffman on the 48-second track “Get Along” shortly before she’s joined by several voices feverishly yawping “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” over and over again. Hoffman might be alone in pointing the finger accusingly during the verse, but she’s quickly backed by her bandmates. They’re a united front, belligerent and dizzying in their approach. It’s aggressive, and it sounds like fun.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1xR9fmg