Natalie Hoffman begins Nots’ sophomore record, Cosmetic, describing the existential void outside her window. There’s cold steel, and silence, and she’s quickly plagued by the emptiness beyond this. In a defeated yell the former Ex-Cult bassist declares, “There’s nothing left to describe,” between the sharp folds of an anxious guitar riff. It’s a song that exudes a sense of present danger, but with a subtle sense of power and confidence coming from the steady post-punk drum beats. It’s like cycling to work on a downtown street crowded by honking cars and sirens.
The Memphis four-piece are following up their 2014 debut We Are Nots, as well as a couple of 7″ releases on seminal punk label Goner Records. The standout was a stellar drum machine post-punk track called “Cold Line,” with a chilling Robert Smith–inspired guitar line. On Cosmetic, “Cold Line” is reimagined with live drums from Charlotte Watson and a warbled synth lead from Alexandra Eastburn. It’s more textured; whereas the single had Hoffman’s vocals forthright, here it’s mostly embedded in the instrumentation—though it retains an element of the original’s frantic creepiness.
Still, Cosmetic largely puts Hoffman’s voice front and center, drawing from the more sprawled-out 1980s punk of The Adolescents (see “Inherently Low”) rather than the fifty-eight-second sonic calamity of, say, Germs or Circle Jerks.
Nots is at their best when their grinding bursts of atonal energy come nestled in between crunchy garage-rock chords. “No Novelty” begins with a succession of rapid fire drums and a sample of fireworks sent off like the beginning of Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, but instead of a bustling stadium anthem, it goes straight for the neck with Meredith Lones’s slicing bassline and Twilight Zone space synthesizers. But at times the parts of songs can start to wear, particular on the longer post-Krautrock tracks like “Fluorescent Sunset” and the album’s closer, “Entertain Me.” Like their hardcore and post-punk predecessors, it seems it was never Nots’ intention to please, but rather to be heard.