USA NAILS- ‘Character Stop’

USA Nails are wound impossibly tight. The London-based band specialise in high-speed, high-tension blasts of fuck-you punk-rock, and have operated with feverish, dedicated intensity since their inception. That means there’s little room between their buzzsaw riffs and relentless rhythms to take a breath- they were once described as “a speeding train that won’t stop”. And there’s little room in their calendars- ‘Character Stop’ is their fifth album in six years. But it also means there’s little room for innovation.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter on such a relatively short timeline but if you’re looking for something different, something more, than, say, the band’s last album– produced in the same studio by the same people in the same amount of time- you aren’t going to find it here. There’s less metallic haranguing perhaps, more grungy fuzz, but ‘Character Stop’ is pretty much the same record USA Nails always make. 

I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Everything that made the band compelling in the first place is here. ‘I Don’t Own Anything’ is an ode to just how rubbish modern life can be, unleashed over a riff that wants to tear through your speakers and start a fight. ‘How Was Your Weekend?’ might be a song about song writing- the least exciting topic in the history of rock and roll- but it’s done with rumbling bass, dive-bombing guitars, and… is that an Eminem reference? And ‘See Yourself’ shows off the band’s killer knack for turning coiled tension into something oddly catchy. 

Frontman Steven Hodson’s street corner sneer remains a staple of the band’s attack. Here he turns his attention to concepts of identity, and loss, and more specific targets like social media, mental health, and maybe, just maybe, quitting this rock and roll stuff and settling down. All while his band continue to resist going on for much longer than three minutes at a time. There’s one song under sixty seconds.

The acerbic sheen that’s covered most everything USA Nails have done is still here also. For all of its focussed, furious quality, ‘Character Stop’ is never really immersive. The album is a fist. Clenched tight, of course. And it keeps you at arm’s length. Even when the band pop and fizz like the Beach Boys from an alien dimension, it’s tough to escape the feeling that they don’t trust anyone, least of all you. But in a year full of suspicion, fear, and uncertainty, maybe that makes perfect sense.

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