The Dirty Nil Take Us Through Their Raw, Back-to Basics LP “Free Rein to Passions” Track by Track

The Canadian noise-punks’ fourth record is out now via Dine Alone Records.
Track by Track

The Dirty Nil Take Us Through Their Raw, Back-to Basics LP Free Rein to Passions Track by Track

The Canadian noise-punks’ fourth record is out now via Dine Alone Records.

Words: Mischa Pearlman

Photo: Steph Montani

May 26, 2023

Stylish Canadian noise-punk/hard-rock hybrids The Dirty Nil really don’t give a fuck for the conventions of the music industry. After forming in 2006, it took the Ontario band—now solidified as singer/guitarist Luke Bentham, drummer Kyle Fisher, and bassist Sam Tomlinson—a full decade to release their debut album, Higher Power. Their last record, which came out in 2021, was called Fuck Art. The cover of their new one, Free Rein to Passions, meanwhile, boasts the most psychedelic art this side of the Grateful Dead and doesn’t even bother including their full band name—it’s listed just as “NIL.” Fair play. 

And it hasn’t done them any harm, either—the band have been on the receiving end of critical acclaim since the off (partly due to their incendiary, full-throttle fun live shows) and in 2017 won the award for Best Breakthrough Group at that year’s Juno Awards. As Free Rein to Passions is birthed into a world that wishes the apocalypse could be as dreamy as it seems to be on its cover, Bentham takes us through the record’s conception track by track. Read all about it and listen to the full album below.

1. “Celebration”
Like all our best stuff, [this song] started as a joke. It came together very quickly and I’m beyond stoked to play it for people. I don’t think we’ve captured Kyle’s drums in such a powerful way before—shoutout to our producer/engineer/mixer John Goodmanson for throwing some mics down an empty hallway to give the drums real depth. I sang the song so hard in the studio that I needed a day of rest afterwards to attempt any other songs. It was worth it. 

2. “Nicer Guy”
One of the first songs I wrote after finishing Fuck Art. We worked on the arrangement a lot and had fun adding extra sounds in the studio, including the David Letterman soundbite at the end. Sam’s bass playing is massive on this one, his fill in the break is my personal favorite moment. I had a different ending to the song, but our friend Brett Emmons from The Glorious Sons told me “you’re an idiot if you don’t bring that riff back again.” Thanks Brett. 

3. “Undefeated”
Attempting to channel our inner Cheap Trick on this one. I think this is the first NIL track with any falsetto, maybe the last. Very fun one to play. 

4. “Atomize Me”
I wrote it while sick with COVID and watching the Beatles Get Back documentary. I was definitely inspired to throw a few more chords around than I usually do—one of my favorites from the LP. Sam played a beautiful Moog part over the intro that really separates it from our typical work. Hard to sing but really fun to play.

5. “Land of Clover”
Another early song in the crop, we really worked on the arrangement extensively. I think we labeled it as “the happy Korn song” for a while because of the detuned groove. John had a lot of fun making the soundscape freakout in the middle. Another one I’m really stoked to play live. 

6. “Blowing Up Things in the Woods”
An ode to Kyle and I’s adolescence. I still have scars on my hands from lighter fuel and burning plastic, would not recommend. The intro and outro clips are taken from a midnight hike we did with our old friends a little while back to the peak over Dundas, Ontario. We apologize to the town and its residents…old habits die hard. 

7. “Stupid Jobs”
I had a job cleaning out limousines when I was 25. I worked there for two weeks when I scraped the Escalade Limo—pride of the fleet—against a wall. They told me I owed them $1,000, I told them “I quit” (postscript: They got busted a few years later for dealing coke). Sam put some lovely harmonies on this one, and I love the bass and drum groove in the second verse. We had a great time late one night in the studio layering the vocals at the end. Kyle put some really cool drum loops over the outro. Super pumped on how this one turned out.

8. “1990” 
Huge bass track, drums are massive too. This one is hard to play on guitar—lotta yelling, lotta fun. Sad songs are always the funnest to play.

9. “Free Rein to Passions”
We recorded the instrumental in the studio, but I had failed to deliver on the lyrics. I kept pushing the deadline until it was too late. I was quite bummed because we all knew we had a proper ripper, but my lyrics left more to be desired. We abandoned it during the sessions and I stewed about it for a few days. I took the instrumental to our jam space and locked the door until I finished it. We cut the vocals in my attic with our good friend and very talented engineer Vince Soliveri, as well as our friend Nabi Sue who contributed some harmonies. It was an extremely hot day and we screamed until the whole room was foggy. Special shoutout to Sam for his climactic larynx shredder at the end. Turned out to be the title song of the LP and one of its best tracks. 

10. “The Light, the Void and Everything”
My favorite of the album and one of my proudest moments as a writer. Nothing fills me with electricity like the first voice memo demo of a song like this one. I was extremely excited to bring it to rehearsal. The arrangement was effortless and everyone brought their A game to the recording. Kyle’s drum loops are stellar, as well as his minimalism and funeral bell overdubs. Sam’s piano/bass work is beautiful. The vocal was one take late at night, my favorite memory of making the record.