USA Nails – ‘FEEL WORSE’

By Ian Kenworthy

Every day your newsfeeds are full of Tech-bros telling you A.I. music is the future, but they’re wrong. Music doesn’t have a simple recipe. You can’t tweak the ingredients to make it tastier. It’s not supposed to be easily digestible. It’s not supposed to be bland. It’s supposed to be an idea carefully expressed. It’s supposed to make you feel something. USA nails understand that art takes many forms. It’s thought-provoking, personal, and stirs something in your soul. If A.I. output music like their new album ‘Feel Worse’ you’d think it was broken.

Any band that names themselves after a Blood Brothers’ song understands the power of noisy music. USA Nails take the blend post-punk and post-hardcore that was native to early 2000’s Seattle scene and put their own spin on it, creating something that’s biting and distinct. It would easily appeal to fans of The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs or Future Of The Left or even The St Pierre Snake Invasion. So it’s impressive that this, their sixth album, feels so fresh and vital.

Opener ‘Cathartic Entertainment’ is a statement of intent; This is not going to be an easy ride. It’s a gloriously noisy swirling, hornet’s nest of guitars held in shape by a stomping bassline and thump of a drum. Even as it gradually dissolves into spacey noises and feedback there’s a defined structure, a trait it shares with the album as a whole. All the songs strain in different directions, all of them feel carefully thought out, and this applies whether the guitars sound as graceful as a snake skimming across the desert, or like a nasty accident in a machine shop. It’s an approach you could describe as organised chaos. This allows ‘I Love It When You Succeed’ to function like a jigsaw as different sounds fly from different angles with an underlying rhythm holding it in a stark pattern. Similarly, there’s a fantastic stereo effect used on ‘Beautiful Eyes!’ where the left and right channel guitar ping-pong between two riffs; neither guitarist playing the full song, nor working without its partner. It’s both creative and immersive, particularly through headphones, leaving the listener in the centre of a kind of guitar-based argument, a sound that makes their earlier work, particularly 2020‘s ‘Character Stop’, seem almost polite by comparison.

Strikingly, numerous songs experiment and create unusual soundscapes. For example the title track seems to be anchored by an intense drum part and repeating guitar line until even they can’t prevent the song from being washed away in a swirling entropy of white noise. Similarly, ‘Holiday Sea’ is built around an itchy hi-hat beat but allows itself to become a tapestry of uncomfortable sounds. In fact, you can almost split the album into three distinct styles. One aggressively noisy post-hardcore, one relatively straightforward post-punk and the third a more experimental hybrid.  All three work, two are incredibly impressive. However, it’s the way they fit together that is important, striking a delicate balance between boisterous and immersive that is both assured and to the point. Listen to the songs out of order and you realise how important the album’s structure is. And, as the whole thing clocks in at 27 minutes it gives you enough to chew on without outstaying its welcome.

Lyrically Steve Hodson and Gareth Thomas concoct a fascinating study of modern culture, approaching each song differently but with defined underlying themes, mostly obviously the fragmentation of entertainment. ‘An Audience of Love’ actively engages with the idea of discomfort of others as a form of leisure and provides the keystone for understanding the album as a whole. Indeed, it’s fascinating how the lyrical tone varies depending on the context, and how their spoken or yelled words are woven through the rising and falling music. Indeed, the image of cluttered, old-fashioned launderette used on the album cover, finds colours in mundanity and nicely illustrates the record’s themes.

Ironically the album is at its weakest when it’s at its most accessible. With its jaunty riffs and straightforward post-punk stylings ‘The Sun In The Sands’ is a little underwhelming and the more obvious and restrained songs ‘Networking Opportunity and ‘On Computer Screen’ feel a little lightweight. However, they’re carefully slotted into the runtime in a way that enhances both their strengths and the album’s esoteric genius.

USA Nails have made an uncomfortable and human work of art. The beautiful tension in the title ‘Feel Worse’ is the record in miniature. Simply, it demands your attention.

IAN KENWORTHY

Three more album reviews for you

LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival @ Hatfield Park, UK

Perennial - 'Art History'

Slow Joy - 'Mi Amigo Slow Joy'