introduction by maria rose sledmere
words by aye nako
In the mid-2000s, pop punk wasn’t just a balm for aching hearts; it was an emblematic rejection of the mainstream, a source of comforting identity among bands who considered themselves outsiders. Ultimately, however, much of its saccharine medicines melted into the generalising narratives of white Western culture, offering less an alternative perspective than one concocted from the patriarchal dominant it apparently rejected. Brooklyn-based Aye Nako revisit the core elements of pop punk—its addictive riffs and melodic lilt—and synthesise a spiky, lyrically intricate form well-fitted to working through the complicated emotional and political questions of genuine identity politics, especially those related to the experience of people of colour and those in the LGBTQ community. Latest album, Silver Haze, due to be released on 7th April via Don Giovanni Records, but streaming in full for you here, from today, reveals a new maturity to their sound, complementing the increasing nuance of their songs’ political themes.
The record has less of the polish of noughties emo than the grunge-fringed pop punk of the nineties; think Pavement injected with the musical equivalent of ProPlus, an exorcist’s howl and a dissident’s political fury. Not the kind of sarcastic, tautological repartee of a Twitter row but the old-school eloquence of punk’s frustration and rage: “Congratulations / you’re still alive / a peppered moth / born in the night”. Beyond the wall of blistering guitars, coiling metallic riffs and thudding drums, what emerges from the bittersweet lyrics is a voice both powerful and hurt, an urge towards self-expression that struggles against identity’s very breakdown. On each of the tracks, Aye Nako tackle memory and nostalgia, the struggles of navigating sexual and racial identities, the gritty reality of complex relationships and the emotional rubble left in their wake.
As the band explain below in their poignant and careful explanations, the purpose of these songs is to make sense of alienation, not only from the world but from oneself; to help explore how internalised social beliefs, from childhood to adulthood, are projected not just on the mind but also the body. Suitably, this music is viscerally physical: chest-bursting choruses combined with bone-crunching riffs and vocals whose earnest and yet sometimes affectless delivery leave us electrically in tune with the band’s pain, struck with a shared sense of numbing otherness.
At a time when the LGBTQ community are being punished by draconian laws, music that is honest and heartfelt, that connects the personal to the collective, is more important than ever. The following track-by-track guide provides an earnest and fascinating insight into songs whose devastating aphorisms—“I guess there’s only one kind of truth / my love’s kindled in solitude”—speak truths to anyone neglected by the sugarcoated and white-washed romance of mainstream culture.
You can stream all twelve tracks from the album via the playlist here, and read Mars’ and Jade’s guide to the record just below. Check it out…
words by mars ganito & jade payne
Mars: The album starts off with a track called We’re Different Now. I made the music while messing around in Garageband. Originally, I wanted to have little interludes with weird/interesting sounds or speaking over some synths throughout the album, but it didn’t work out that way. The sound clips are taken from my childhood cassette tapes. Growing up, I would carry around a small radio or TalkBoy and record everything. I chose my favorite, least embarrassing clips of my childhood best friend and me talking and laughing. At the end, the kid version of me saying “We’re different now” echoes and fades out. That particular sentence stuck out to me because, little did I know, twenty years later, we would grow up to be very different people who very much don’t see eye to eye. In a way, this track is sort of a prequel to “Spare Me” found later on in the album.
I always feel the need to scream more in my songs, but I’m a pretty quiet person, except when I laugh. Sissy was supposed to be that song, but I held back again. I have a lot of screams that I keep locked inside. This one is about my frustrations with my gender, street harassment and a general feeling of danger when I leave my house. There are inconsolable parts of me that I bury because this planet is not ready for femme/effeminate queer and trans people. Hell, this place can’t even respect straight cis women. I wish I could feel ok wearing lipstick, crop tops and things like that whenever I want, but I’m literally terrified someone will kill me.
Jade: Half Dome. When we went to the west coast in the spring of 2014, it was the last time that things would feel pure for a long time. A tumultuous descent out of a toxic relationship, in which I experienced deep, white erasure from my partner, was soon to follow. Racial trauma leads to a constant physical feeling of anxiety in your stomach that makes you forget how to breathe. I would long for the time Joe and I camped in Yosemite, and made it to glacier point, stoned out of our minds, upsetting the family in the next campsite over. I’d long for the time we went to Santa Cruz, walked across a train-track bridge, and played laser tag at the arcade by the beach. I would think about the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” and think about how I wanted this horrible time in my life to be over already and cross over to the silver side of the line.
We all carry some level of emotional baggage from past relationships, whether it’s with friends, family, or partners. I was infectiously heartbroken over a lover that lived on the other side of the world. We had both abandoned ship & left our things in an explosive argument, unresolved. it haunted me every single day, no matter how much I tried to bury the painful reminders. Nightcrawler is about unpacking difficult memories with the hopes of reaching a kind of enlightened, better place where you can finally let go and move on. It’s about the measures we take to heal & make sense of the inner turmoil.