Published Dec 30, 2020In 10 years, the Dirty Nil have gone from scrappy small-town Ontario upstarts to Juno-winning rockers with a devoted base of riff addicts and guitar worshippers. And while they have long been the underdogs of Canadian rock, their third album has the kind of punched-up confidence and middle-finger swagger that says they don't intend to be underdogs much longer.
The Nil have always been hellbent on finding the world's loudest amplifier, and they just so happened to write some great tunes while they were at it. With Fuck Art, the songs come first. It's still a towering wall of guitar rock, but it's built on an almost pop-oriented focus on consciously tight and catchy songwriting. Joined again by producer John Goodmanson, the band sounds even punchier than they did on Master Volume. It's easily the band's most commercially viable recording (even with the F-bomb title).
Cuts like "Blunt Force Concussion" and "Elvis '77" make that abundantly clear; take Weezer's Blue Album, throw in some heavy riffing and add Luke Bentham's precise, commanding voice, and you've got a recipe for rock radio. (Hell, they've even layered in acoustic guitars! Those are the bigger, wooden ones that you don't have to plug into an amp.)
What's also noticeable about the Dirty Nil's latest effort is their willingness to dress themselves up in a variety of costumes and play rock star with no shame. The band's flair has evolved from the boyish antics of blowing bubble gum and air-kicks to the razzle-dazzle of studded vests and pyrotechnics, and the music keeps pace. They've decided that they like classic rock, '80s thrash metal, '90s college-rock and modern pop-punk, and, screw it, they're gonna do it all.
"Doom Boy" throws Pantera riffs into a power-pop anthem, all while winking at the metalheads and hardcore kids by name-dropping Slayer, Turnstile and Cro-Mags. "Ride or Die" leans into the Motörhead mentality, while "Hello Jealousy" and "Possession" sound like the Replacements or the Gin Blossoms played with the high-volume showmanship of KISS. "Done with Drugs" rocks so hard that its critique of performative self-care is mostly inconsequential; what you've got instead is a "Just Say No" ad made for getting wasted.
They get away with it all by being good at it. Bentham is an electrifying leader, but you can't underestimate the impact of Ross Miller's thundering bass or Kyle Fisher's pounding, crashing drums. They also pull it off by just having fun with it. Still, they sometimes find themselves teetering on the edge of parody; think of the Darkness or, to use another Weezer comparison, Make Believe.
But the Nil still have no intention of taking things very seriously. Created in a time of distress and despair, Fuck Art is pure escapism. Looking back 20 years from now, you'd have no idea it was made during one of the most world-changing events of the past century; the only thing apocalyptic about it is the ground-shaking sound of a cranked-up Marshall stack. These are songs about normal stuff: having fun, feeling old, falling in love, screwing it up, getting mad online and having your bike stolen.
The Dirty Nil have little regard for the potential to make music that changes the world. Their only allegiance is to a big, loud tune. Art says something. For the Dirty Nil, this isn't art. It's rock'n'roll. (Dine Alone)