Austerity-era Britain has produced a whole slew of interesting bands, ranging from the wildly successful Idles, Sleaford Mods and Fat White Family to stranger indie acts like Squid, Hotel Lux and Cabbage. These acts produce off-kilter jittery post-punk that rarely sounds especially sonically fresh, but contains plenty of visceral power and caustic observations on contemporary life. Though they’ve been knocking around for a fair few years already, USA Nails are still outsiders of this scene, playing heavier and noisier than much of their peers and seemingly not giving a shit whether they’re accepted by them or not.
This attitude is reflected in key tracks on Character Stop, ones that rely heavily on satirical and sardonic wordplay. ‘Dumb Of Choice’ is a bitter attack pointed towards bands with a “message”, sarcastically drawling that they want to “run with your gang, we’ll speed down the street singing protests songs”. It’s a mish-mash of lines seemingly attacking groupthink and hypocrisy that’s more of a rant than a properly composed track, but is nonetheless effective. There’s also ‘I Don’t Own Anything’, which is a short, punk-y takedown of hyper-fast modern life, how we “experience everything, but don’t own anything”. Its fuzzy urgency and snotty vocals make for a compelling and filthy listen, a noise punk anthem for the postmodern era.
However, other, hitherto under-explored sides of USA Nails’ personality are also revealeda cross CharacterStop. ‘How Was Your Weekend’ is a beast of a track, crawling through its opening and verse sections before waiting until its chorus to explode. The lyrics about being “part time artists” who “work a fourty-five hour week” are direct and very meta, as is the “I celebrate myself, there is nothing I regret” line, which comes across as surprisingly sincere, and rises above the sardonic, acid-tongued tone of much of the rest of the album. Then there’s closer ‘Wallington’, which paints an ambiguous portrait of mundane life, backed by a Slint-esque atmosphere of creeping dread. These tracks open up the psychology of the album, introducing new and complicated themes and ideas.
Character Stop also expands USA Nails’s musical language, not radically, but in a few interesting directions. There’s still the weighty, sludgy tracks like ‘No Pleasure’ and ‘See Yourself’, short and sharp ragers that recall Part Chimp or even Torche if they had a less melodious ear. However the tracks ‘Preference For Cold’ and ‘Temporary Home’ take a much less direct approach, focusing instead on insidious, bass-lead grooves. These dancier numbers are refreshing and fun, and are the most easy to like tracks on this otherwise noisy and dissonant work.
USA Nails’s intentionally minimal and ugly sound combined with their tough, often harsh lyrical insights make Character Stop a difficult album to love. It’s a work to be admired in an abstract sense instead of wholly embraced, although perhaps upon seeing the tracks live, whenever that may be, will help illuminate their visceral appeal. It’s still a commendable effort, USA Nails have smartly expanded on their sound and their lyrical bombs hit all their targets, however its coldness makes it a touch impenetrable. But again, you sense that’s exactly what the band intended.