Is there room for a massive enough panel of validation for the daily absurdity of any, all, and even your own mechanized existence that’d push along the complainant within fast enough to stop feeling invisible to the gray skied, gray side-walked, grey painted box-to-boxed up world that seems curated entirely for the sake of pushing anyone lucky enough towards their pinging, buzzing, handheld self-obsessions? No, because there isn’t a wire that has been crossed enough times within the ‘western’ world to the point that its fraying hadn’t simply forced a complete meltdown and reboot; There is no reboot disc for our all-digital format of life. Burn it and buy a new one, lest the cracked screen cut your fingers and the like button becomes a pain to tap over and over as it drives the glass deeper to the bone. A breakdown might do it, eh? How about that ‘dark place’ among the most starving of attention seekers who’d make their living off of your clicks and engagement, do you feel for their suicidal moments atop supposed piles of cash or, the obviate mania that drives up the ante day by day waiting to pop? Don’t you feel it yourself? Pressure to go public and share every goddamned thought, hell… The best ones could probably get monetized on the way to your brand. Doesn’t it feel insane to be such a nobody sitting still when every other privileged nobody is clawing out of your fucking phone gripping at you as if drowning, screaming, bleating like sheep gnawed and bloody from wolves that’d wound and bite without killing. Toyed with by corporations and the exacting science of manipulation you’ve been guided towards an on display, always on, always working, never your ‘self’, never-bunged endless stream of mundane and unexcitable production and as you flick on the lights and put on a goddamned feckless show for a few thousand idiots who’re only there out of envy that they’re not yet empty enough to be so bold and well, you could stop, right? No, no, no, no… Everything in life is too gray and whatever black and white is there is a blur as progress comes forward and in motion, you’re on and your ‘Life Cinema’ is rolling too hard to let any dead air interfere. Londoners USA Nails aren’t tired, though, if anything they’re fueled by the drying world around them and shitting irascible diamonds on this their fourth and freshest noise rock/post-hardcore grind of a full-length.
For the length of their career thus far these Brits have worn their love of 2000’s US post-hardcore, classic noise rock, and a fair bit of experimental hardcore like a butt-tight pair of jeans that started recklessly discomforting with it’s Seattle-vented artsy noise guitar feedback and Blood Brothers referencing (probably?) moniker that’d end up aiming for a looser-swinging sort of post-hardcore, something a bit menacing, by the time their second full-length ‘No Pleasure’ (2016) had cracked on out. There was a bit ‘o classic (but fully re-amped) Gang of Four as much as there was some Wire informing their rhythms at their heaviest and that little punch of post-punk did a lot of differentiate their sound as USA Nails took a darker divebomb towards nigh nihilistic noise rock on ‘Shame Spiral’ (2017) and it was that album (and their split with Tongue Party that same year) that hooked me into their greater discography. Call it a no wave, post-punk or whatever influence but I was immediately drawn to the deadpan tonality of their otherwise excitable and raucous recordings, it feels like a heavy cloud above that’ll follow you no matter how free you feel and this is special in the world of noise rock and post-hardcore where the groove or the needled guitar work is typically set to be the spectacle that brings you back and drops off quick. Tongue-in-cheeky or just absurdist in the greatest tradition of noise rock USA Nails sold some real desolation to me with ‘Shame Spiral’ as an introduction so, today I was taken aback by how violenty streamlined and tightly packaged ‘Life Cinema’ is, as if the succinctness of puritanical hardcore punk had provided a slimming effect upon their already profound sound design, making for a profoundly impactful listen.
If you look to the faster, heavier breed of modern noise rock and metallic hardcore influenced post-hardcore bands of today USA Nails are right up on the level with groups like Tunic, Tongue Party and maybe Intercourse if you stretch the likeness to a wholly other place. Each brings a faster pace and waves of screaming guitar work much like USA Nails do throughout ‘Life Cinema’ with the major point of differentiation lying in their ability to thump out modern Sub Pop levels of catchy noise rock a la Pissed Jeans or earlier Metz. There is an exciting ‘loud quiet loud’ effect in these brisk and ruinous songs that often syncs up with a ‘fast slow faster, fastest’ pacing. It never feels like you get a true breath from ‘Life Cinema’ and in that sense it’ll probably rip right through you as a spin if you’re ADHD diagnosed or particularly hard to please moment-to-moment. At just 26 minutes you’re not getting even a second of drag within the full listen and as a result it did begin to feel about four or five minutes too short as I became more familiar with the tracklist and general spiraling motion of the album’s mood. Short as it may be, they’ve packed in a remarkable album that runs its own gauntlet of absurdism, daunting anhedonism, and cutting sarcasm aimed at instant gratification and the pitfalls of savage and shameless voyeurism. It can mean absolutely nothing beyond an adrenaline rush or you could spend a few evenings trying to suck up whatever jollies the double-meanings and brutalist poetic affect bring to you; In this sense it feels like a classic noise rock album but one that cuts all of the sluggish excess by getting in and out quick with the point.
The nigh tribal drum hits of “It’s Ordinary” are a fine example of how clean and refined, polished in a minimalistic gloss, that USA Nails have become and I mean that in the nicest way possible. There is a gorgeously profound feeling when in the midst of any one of the eleven songs here due to the level of fidelity and songwriting really floating way up at the ceiling of what can be expected from a peak noise rock band in 2019, every bit of sound created is purposeful and doubly impactful for its well-considered spot in the whole of it all. Sure, if you thought that smarmy acid trip of a Daughters album was a new level of magic last year, maybe this’ll be a too much of an adrenaline junkie experience but, holy shit am I going to be listening to this album the rest of the year thanks to its powerfully achieved brevity. Every bit of ‘Life Cinema’ is gold but once we’re past “A Fair Nickel” there is the sense of collapse and resignation that contrasts with the very bold and on-fire first two thirds of the record. Whether or not this was conceptual or intentional it feels like a sag in waiting for the album to hit repeat again, the first several tracks are that much a flood of glistening and glorious noise rock freakery. I was impressed and then re-impressed several times as I spent about a month easing into ‘Life Cinema’ and its profundity, absurdity and energy never escaped me and I’ve begun to feel as if I’d been living within its insane blender of noisome ruckus. There are few noise rock relevant records I can ride this hard each year and I’d count this latest USA Nails sit n’ spinner among the finer rides of 2019. Highly recommended. For preview I’d suggest “Life Cinema” and the opener “Smile” are pretty unforgettable singles to start and “You Wish” and “It’s Ordinary” are probably my most favored tracks overall.
In my dreams, I sleep. 4.25/5.0
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