What do they sound like? NME called the last album “volatile, discordant brilliance” and KEXP said, “Naomi Punk is about as ‘punk’ as Nirvana, which is to say, pretty fucking punk.” Spin Magazine has noted, “where grunge famously took a thudding, enraged heaviness and gave it a palatable edge, Naomi Punk takes those shards and makes them glisten with a minimalist edge, maximalist sound.”
The 25 tracks on ‘Yellow,’ conceived as a 2XLP double album from day one, were self-recorded steadily throughout 2015-2017 at various locations. Much of the material was derived from what the group called ‘The Scorpion Suite’, a state of mind reached only by the alternative version of Naomi Punk they call ‘The Scorpions’ (disambiguated). Many ‘Scorpion Sessions’ were conducted by The Scorpions, each member performing their predetermined roll in a project half-aspiring to the register of licensing music, half-aspiring to musical novelty.
The self-referential musical language of The Feeling (2012) was wrung out into the starker, live-informed Television Man (2014). On ‘Yellow’ this language becomes a means, not an end.
Integrated into the album are glimpses of live recordings, sounds of equipment being pushed around, hard rock sample libraries, sounds of the flapping wings of the album’s host (“I Found My Angel Wings” is embedded in thematic variation throughout), windy field recordings, emulsive synthetic woodwinds, a busted car stereo, a few four-track acoustic ballads, and more than a few puzzles and jokes.
Yellow begins with two introductions. The first sound of the record is a sample of a bass guitar, an instrument that those familiar with Naomi Punk will know doesn’t exist in their lineup. The stage is set with alien props.
The pair ‘Cookie’ and ‘Cardboard’ are hot off the assembly line culminations of the prototypes designed by ‘Television Man.’ They are exceedingly agile pop constructions with drumwork designed to throw off the bots, and guitars assimilated into the machinations of Coster’s notably present, proto-philosophical spoken verse. This is CGI Beefheart resurrected in post-production for a few scenes.
‘Tiger Pipe’ demands the user, “destroy all money.”
Much of the record conjures this notion of the undoing of ‘society’, at least in a western societal sense, and its supercession via the natural world; the revenge of Mother Earth.
‘Gotham Brake’ illustrates this particular crux of ‘Yellow’ in an interesting way — a requiem for humankind’s ‘harmonious’ relationship to the natural world. Industrialized society has reached a level of atrophy so severe that it must be completely dismantled. Walden’s Cesspool. ‘Gotham’ is an advocation for a new way forward. The fourth way. You can hear the sounds of the gears shifting, wheels turning. A narrator’s voice steps in then and again from the vantage of Mother Earth. Breaking out of the stasis.
‘Scorpion Glue’ is a chimera of many of the species encountered in ‘Yellow.’ Its contorted guitars and drums are tangled with synthetic mirrored versions of themselves, in dialogue, neither coming to primacy.
On first listen ‘Chains’ appears like a monolith in the darkness of side-C. On repeat listens its stark minimalism is revealed to be almost crystalline in form, shifting chords beading against a vantablack passacaglia, a trio for the end of time. Coster drags us into the grinding chorus in androgynous deadpan: “Ecology … doesn’t follow your system … so I’m chasin’ … chasin’ my dreams.”
If Rock and Pop music are instruments of the Neoliberal period, then they must be repurposed and reorganized. Not just formally, but politically. Coincidentally, the structure of ‘Yellow’ (in spite of the so-called difficulty of its 2xLP format) is no different than recent confessional documents from Frank Ocean, Solange, Kendrick, etc., thus owing much more to the Pop format than its length would suggest. ‘Rock’ and ‘Punk’ have become so conservative that they are rendering themselves obsolete as they fail to provide new ideas and solutions for anything other than ‘self-expression’ and fake posturing. The ‘Yellow’ structure constructs a three-dimensional listening experience, and while it does not pretend to know all the answers, it at the very least (and perhaps most importantly) posits a serious alternative.
Naomi Punk are from Olympia, Washington.
Naomi Punk to perform on October 5th at Mr. Roboto Project