Contrary to popular trends, bands who end up sticking around are usually the ones that get by on their own terms. Ontario trio The Dirty Nil are a prime example – on their debut full-length Higher Power, they eschew anything currently popular in favour of eleven tracks of timeless rock ‘n’ roll. And even in the way the current musical climate prioritises fads over actual displays of quality, this is an album that demands the listener’s full attention.
As previously mentioned, The Dirty Nil travel down their own road on this album, a road in which a number of different genres are waiting to tag along with their sound. The framework of classic punk is there, but there’s a garage rock and occasional grunge twang to the guitars, coupled with Luke Bentham’s snotty sneers that ever so often veer close to hardcore. Each element fits together in a suitably chaotic manner, making for an uncompromisingly ramshackle but addictive listen.
The main element of Higher Power‘s allure comes in its production and execution. Again, it all boils down to The Dirty Nil not following trends – whereas the mainstream tends to favour tight, polished albums, there’s a nervous raggedness to this one, completely raw and organic and all the better for it. The squalling feedback that opens the album on No Weaknesses gives a fair idea of how these tracks will pan out, and it only continues from there. The bass-led rumble of Lowlives magnifies the track’s crunch and heaviness, while the likes of Violent Hands and the animalistic blast of Fugue State are the types of rough-around-the-edges punk blasts that the world needs more of.
It’s in the vocals where the album is really tied together. Luke Bentham’s yelping and couldn’t-care-less attitude is the perfect fit for this kind of sound, and while he’s not the greatest vocalist ever, it helps to maintain the album’s perfectly imperfect vibe. Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü and Know Your Rodent break from slacker-y mumbles to audibly faltering screeches, and Helium Dreamer packs in the same unpredictable twists and turns as its musical backing. It’s similar to the approach a band like FIDLAR take, except The Dirty Nil have managed to capture an extra dimension to their sound, feeling a lot fuller and, crucially, more interesting than their Los Angeles counterparts.
It does get a bit repetitive after a while (though that’s slightly to be expected; they may play around with plenty of influences but they’re often ones with very little room for growth), but there’s no denying the quality of actual songs that are on offer here. Bands like this often shoulder the blame to the deliberately poor production for the lack of any tangibly great songs, but Higher Power has a fair few gems tucked away. There’s the far-too-clever-for-its-own-good Zombie Eyed early on, as well as closer Bury Me At The Rodeo, one hell of a second wind as things just begin to tail off, and a track that is somehow made to sound like a real epic in only three-and-a-half minutes.
For a debut album, The Dirty Nil have not so much left an impression with Higher Power than left a crater smack bang in the middle of the musical landscape. It’s everything that mainstream rock isn’t – rough and ready with a clearly high danger threshold – and shines all the brighter because of it. But most of all, it shows that polish and fancy production aren’t needed to make a great album – just the right amount of tenacity and intent to bash out some absolutely riotous songs. And you don’t need more proof that that actually works than this album.
For fans of: PUP, FIDLAR, Single Mothers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Higher Power’ by The Dirty Nil is released on 26th February on Dine Alone Records.