USA NAILS – Character Stop (2020)REVIEW

“I experience everything but I do not own anything” — In examination of modern ‘personality on display’, social media and what constitutes identity by committee a greater frequency of façade surely persists today yet this hasn’t altered the species’ typical expression. Even narcissism isn’t particularly original, or evolved no matter how hard one might try to push callous or melodramatic extremes. Upon first bumping into London-based post-punk/noise rock quartet USA Nails it’d been easy to assume their point of view was moralizing, preaching to the choir about the mutilation of modern man by way of their own devices; ‘Life Cinema‘ (2019) in particular felt like its stance was that of pure exhaustion with the chaotic unreality of the times. It’d read positioned, sour as a no wave nihilist yet valuably existential and I’d been charmed pantless in my review. Here, a little over a year later the follow-up ‘Character Stop‘ provides a somewhat more direct narrative angle to this hopefully dissociative reality and therein grows the inkling that perhaps it’d not been moralizing but illustration for the sake of artistic fulfillment — To see ones self in observation of others, to share ones self despite any irony and defeated absurdism that’d arise. The effect is nakedly revealing, sullen and deserving of pause despite being delivered as highly charged adrenaline-burning noise punk.

Of course that’d be too much of a generalization. ‘Character Stop’ feels much more like a proper dystopic noise rock album this time around thanks to their mastery of deadpan post-punk delivery and some slower, more dynamically arranged pieces. This goes beyond simple changes of pace, though, as you might recall ‘Life Cinema’ was an always-on blur, a hard shove a thousand times over in less than 30 minutes; The shockingly juxtaposed guitar pyrotechnics and spongy bass tone are there, they’re still USA Nails by ear, but this one is much more of an adventure via moodier performances throughout. The Londoner quartet have leaned into a sound that is a bit art-rock’d, not unlike HEADS.‘ most recent record ‘Push’ where the shape of the song is meant to provide a closest match for the poetic value of its lyric performances. They’re actually on fire throughout, finding some considerable harmonious headspace and riding those communal brain wrinkles quite naturally, even compared to the strong feat of the prior record. “Temporary Home” stands out to me in this regard, not only for its incredible dancepunk bulge of a beat n’ bassline but for how they dance around it with all manner of The Birthday Party worthy skronk n’ confetti, flicked around what I’d read as a meditation upon what modular respite is available to the touring artist. Their “At Home He’s A Tourist” moment, if you will.

Kicking things off with “Revolution Worker” might briefly present an argument to the opposite effect, sounding quite a bit like it was pulled from the high-energy bounce of 2019. The subject, or my interpretation of it, seems to line up with the prior theme as well as it presents a character enacting the revolution of the people from the decidedly sedentary position of social media propagandist. This could be seen as a sign that the band simultaneously understood their modus was brilliant in prior iteration and that some small tweaks to structure and atmosphere could provide bigger, more impactful pieces. This becomes more clear on songs like “How Was Your Weekend?” and “Preference For Cold”, two pieces that are distinctly this songwriting collaboration in action but easing into a less deliberate pace, letting the despair of the earnest observation (or, the character) express in less anxietous time. This makes for a full listen that expands and contracts, some sections unfold in clever and deliberate ways and others are hammer wielding maniacs, warning you of their impending wallop from the first strum or shout.

Without intentionally leaving any fellow out, the big shiner on this record is probably guitarist Gareth Thomas who seems to truly embrace (or incite) the different rhythmic play that alternate pace and songcraft allows. No doubt modern post-hardcore and noise rock guitarists often use similar technique to their advantage but Thomas‘ work is decidedly modern, conscious of metallic dissonance and percussive techniques without managing to hit skronk-core style; The glass-shard smacking warble of the guitars on “Preference For Cold” is the most solid example of this for my own taste. For an album tracked live over the course of four days (Wayne Adams @ Bear Bites Horse) the precision of these performances are absolutely professional, either that or I’ve a dull ear for mistakes but the actual feat of this recording is considerable. Writing music fast, buttoning it up and whipping it out pro isn’t new to USA Nails modus but no doubt the fellow who has bent most quickly and considerably on ‘Character Stop’ is vocalist Steven Hodson who’ll go from shouting sermon to ASMR whisper in the course of these eleven songs, adapting his oration with some notable skill; That isn’t to say that I like the experiment of “Wallington”, at all, but that the variety of expression throughout is of note. The glue that’d clench these big personalities together into one powerful death ray as their collective efforts intensify is a rare feat, I’d venture to guess that not allowing time to overthink things has kept USA Nails fresh and potent for the past several releases.

In the back of my mind, and the heat of reflection, I’d instinctively place ‘Character Stop’ as moderate vibe iteration and considerable stylistic expansion at once. I’ve gotta buy it as a big fan of ‘Life Cinema’, I’ve found it no less genius, yet I recognize it is a mid-stream capture beyond that initial push over the edge. This one is more introspective, less spastic, and a fine flip of the script without changing so drastically it’ll wear like a botched facelift. You’ll either need to ‘get’ my own taste in post-punk, noise rock and post-hardcore to take the recommendation or already understand where USA Nails are coming from as (what I’d consider) world class in their category though there are numerous pieces that speak for themselves via infectious hook and fiery guitar rock. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Character Stop
LABEL(S):Hex Records
RELEASE DATE:October 23rd, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Noise Rock,

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