Douglas Martin does his own PR.
The second night of Gonerfest 12 was an enlightening experience. PBR cans were emptied and chucked in every direction, including the performers. Scuffles were broken up only for the combatants to (literally) kiss and make up. Ty Segall smashed a guitar during his first live performance of his Ty Rex project, detonating an explosion of glitter all over the beer-soaked floors of the Hi-Tone. Timmy Vulgar attached a green smoke bomb to the neck of his guitar and lit the fuse. Things that would have gotten a performance in Seattle shut down and the performers banned for good seemed like just another long night at the office in Memphis.
But the set sticking its talons into my memory the most had no extracurricular shenanigans, aside from someone flinging a beer can at this band’s drummer, only for her to duck her head out of the way and continue to dutifully keep time without incident. The band played a very distinctive iteration of assaultive, insurgent punk rock, equal parts garage-punk, krautrock, noise, and psych. The songs were sub-two-minute declarations expertly played and spat with vitriol. Roaring guitars, warbly keyboard sounds. The band was introduced onstage as “the best band in Memphis.”
They were called Nots. Immediately after their set, I bought a t-shirt and a seven-inch (since I bought their record during my holy pilgrimage to Goner Records the afternoon before) and promptly told the two members selling merch they were my new favorite band.
Sometimes, listening to music that sticks with you is all about context. I remember listening to We Are Nots some time before my Memphis excursion, and I remember it being a very good debut album. But occasionally you listen to something good and forget how good it is, so I reacquainted myself with the album before my trip and proceeded to very much look forward to their Friday night set. Then, unbeknownst to me beforehand, they became my new favorite band—something that, surprisingly enough, still happens after almost eight years of sorting through upwards of 30 press release emails every weekday (thank goodness they go easy when not in the confines of office hours)—and I wore down my copies of We Are Nots and their “Virgin Mary” seven-inch and awaited anything new I could get my hands on.
The opening notes of “Entertain Me,” the lead single for their forthcoming (and certain to be incredible) sophomore album Cosmetic, contain a solemn, loosey-goosey guitar-and-drums combo and a bleating, scratching sound scribbling over it. Glossing over the runtime, it occurred to me it was almost a quarter of the length of the entirety of their debut album. That’s a dangerous proposition for any punk band, but Nots have shown their improvisational chops in spades during their scorching live sets.
Both the guitar and keyboards sound like a busted transistor radio trying to pick up a station several paces out of its range, that intense buzzing sound uneven in its rhythm and almost crass in its shrillness. The rhythm section is ferocious and menacing, similar to that of fellow Memphis citizens Ex-Cult. Natalie Hoffman defiantly barks into the mic: “Entertain me! Tell me what to say!/Entertain me! Tell me who to be!” It’s a struggle of perception versus the desire of those who do the perceiving.
It’s a generational problem of sorts. We can’t shake older generations believing all we care about is constant amusement, all the while using the often-shallow critique to manipulate us into doing what they want instead of what we want. The ominous, mysterious “they” doesn’t necessarily signify the Boomers-to-Millennials issue both sides have been forcing upon everybody every since the latter has slowly encroached upon the status of the ruling class, because the Greatest Generation probably said the same things about Baby Boomers during the rise in popularity of film and television.
However, there is a “they” in play here, and “they” seem to oscillate wildly between damning us the same things their elders damned them for and wanting to control us to suit their needs, their ethics, their way of life. “Entertain Me” is a bold approach to looking into that structural problem, a fast-and-loose psychedelic punk song with fewer words than erosive sounds, a brazen confrontation in the face of being suppressed to feed the insatiable monster of assimilation.
Sometimes you almost forget about a band you like, and sometimes a series of events (including the release of one incredible song) ensures you’ll never forget about them again.