The Memphis garage punk heroines are back. In 2014, Nots staked their claim to the genre with the well-received We Are Nots debut LP. With Cosmetic, Nots doubles down on its dissonant and assertive sound with ample attitude and more vigor than before.
I had the good fortune of seeing Nots perform twice in 2015 – at Happenin’ Fest in Birmingham, Alabama and Gonerfest 12 in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Nots had that raw, aggressive energy present in their We Are Nots LP and brought it to the stage with them both times – even more so on home turf. If Nots is performing anywhere near you – stop what you’re doing and go. They really have to be experienced live.
Cosmetic builds on the foundation set in We Are Nots. The guitars, synthesizers, bass and drums are more warped and crunchier than before. The tone and attitude are consistent throughout, with each progressive track exuding confidence and stride. In addition, the songwriting is more pointed, foreboding, and cyclical, at times.
The album’s opener, ‘Blank Reflection’ is a slower, simmering track. It’s a well-chosen opener, as the build feels like a pent up angst that eventually leads way to a raging flash-track like ‘Rat King,’ where we’re met with Nots’ signature dissonance. ‘Cold Line’ recalls the reflection theme that’s brought up in ‘Blank Reflection’; “There’s nothing left / To describe … Just a blank / Blank reflection’’ but contrasts it with the line “You saw yourself / Reflection in glass / Cold line of hate / Fold over, fold over / I saw myself / Distorted / Looking back / Cold line of hate / Fold over, fold over”. Grimy guitar distortion is layered over the haunting bassline to underscore this.
‘New Structures’ is a furious track that almost swallows itself whole within the contained frenzy (‘A slight of hand / A human face / I lost my way / Through scripted rage’). The title track is a true standout, as it contrasts with the usual Nots style consistent through the album. It’s akin to a 70s space-rock band coming apart at the seams – just as everything goes wrong. The usual fast-paced, pounding drums are slowed to the point of sounding irregular. The synthesizers sound like warped bleeps and bloops, as if a dying computer were sending out its final signals. The slow guitar licks almost take on an abstract form as vocalist & guitarist Natalie Hoffman belts through the noise; “Cosmetic / In a fluorescent dawn / Pray to the all the idols / For their aesthetic song”
Beyond ‘Cosmetic’, Nots hits the reset button and charges full speed towards the finish. ‘No Novelty’, ‘Inherently Low’, and ‘Fluorescent Sunset’ are essentially precursors to the seven-minute closer, ‘Entertain Me’. The track already has its own charm as a stand-alone single, but within the context of the album it’s strengthened by the themes and general attitude of the tracks that precede it. It’s the showstopper to a show-stealing record; “I am the judge / Witness unforgiving / I am the judge / I paid for truth / I paid for truth / I paid for death / I paid for you / I paid for you / Entertain me / Entertain me”.
Nots tweak their formula on Cosmetic and won’t let you off the ride until you experience everything they’ve got to offer. Cop it and check out We Are Nots, as well. Both albums make for great companion pieces.