In a post-apocalyptic world of rage and destruction and zombie eyes, I want to batten down the hatches surrounded by two things: Higher Power, the Dirty Nil's debut full length, and a Vegan Brussels Sprout Kimchi Burger with Bulgogi Sauce and Nacho "Cheese". Here's how it all would go down:
Let's start at the foundation of this recipe, the vegan burger. There is a reason why people love those f***ing frozen patties full of hexane that come from their grocer's freezer. You can smash 'em, dash 'em, bite 'em and step on 'em and you still will have a finely shaped burger that won't leave some dirty mashed potato looking mess on your clothes. In other words, frozen burgers are invincible. So in order for a homemade version to stand up to their frozen counterparts, they also need an air of invincibility. These burgers are no different. They must be formed, then skillet fried and bulgogi doused before coming into contact with my teeth. Thankfully, they stood up to all the rigorous testing I put them through. Higher Power's version of invincibility comes from the album's opener, "No Weakness." When I originally heard the song I suggested that it is "vintage the Dirty Nil, with roaring guitars, screeching feedback and screaming vocals" and that it "definitely ranks in the top five percent of all-time Christmas Amish crouton breakfasts" (you had to be there). After spending a bit more time with "No Weaknesses," I would add that the guitars, feedback and screaming sort of meld together into this wall of absolutely brilliant thrash. This thrash feels, during the verses and the long instrumental especially, that it is perilously close to running amok. But just as things appear to be too far gone the Dirty Nil reigns it all in and embraces a slightly more melodic and harmonious shout of "No Weaknesses." Brute force patty meet brute force song:
This invincible vegan burger is created by combining a unique blend of legumes (chickpeas), grains (barley), fungus, veggies and nuts (cashews). Each of these ingredients serves their own unique purpose. For the chickpeas and barley, that purpose is providing texture while also creating a sort of starchy binding to help hold the burger together. The cashews incorporate a certain amount of nuttiness to the burger. The veggies and fungus add the glutamate-rich flavoring that takes this burger farther away from other veggie versions and closer to their meat counterparts. Higher Power features the same components present on it. For instance, "Lowlives" brings an almost hardcore styled punk sound to the album. It doesn't get much starchier than that. The next track, "Friends In The Sky,"is an on again off again raucous punked out country number. It provides texture for the album, showing that there is more to the Dirty Nil than just screaming, feedbacking, and rock and roll. The triumvirate of "Know Your Rodent," "Bluto Bloody Bluto," and "Violent Hands" work at such a pace that your body is bound to be shooting out excitatory signals so rapidly that one can't help but wonder if things aren't about to turn toxic. I know glutamate fits in there somewhere but my science is super limited. I went to a school where they taught creationism and shit.
The album's second track, "Zombie Eyed," (here) has quickly become one of my favorites (and my toddler's too). It fills the negative space that is left behind by "No Weaknesses." The insane and out of control verses have been replaced by a calmer, slightly cleaner band. But like a hockey player who will forever grow back his beard once the playoffs begin, I know this clean feel is fleeting. By the time the band reaches the chorus the pent up pressure of remaining even keel comes to a head. We quickly fall back onto our out of control, feedback driven, rollercoaster. It is at this point in the song, right around the first chorus, where I find myself thinking about Rivers Cuomo. What if he had moved to Ontario, Canada instead of LA when he turned 19? What if his mode of transportation was a dirt bike instead of a surfboard? Could Pinkerton have taken on an even rawer, colder feel? Could Rivers have felt the need to crank the vocal feedback dial well past warm and into hot territory to keep him from freezing in the Canadian cold? I wrestle myself back to the present when the line "If I'm a dog, you're a swine" plays through my speaker. I don't come up for air again until the last of the "I guess I'm just zombie eyed's" are uttered to close out the track. "Zombie Eyed" is to the album as the bulgogi sauce is to my burger. Adding the bulgogi serves two purposes. First it provides the swine, it gives the burger additional flavor that makes something like adding bacon unnecessary. Second, the sugar in the bulgogi caramelizes when it is heated and gives the burger a nice charred look to it. I placed it on my plate and immediately starting giving it zombie eyes. I wasn't the only one, Z-Bot did as well.
When "Wrestle Yu to Husker Du" (it appears the umlauts are gone on Higher Power), kicks into gear I find myself again thinking of Rivers Cuomo. This time around I see the Weezer leader drunk on cheap gin while lamenting previous love losses. While this is going on, his current girl snuggles up next to someone else. Next thing I know it is all romps in the hay and playing doctor in the reeds. But, as the Dirty Nil points out, there is no moral conflict taking place while stealing another man's girl because "I don't care about your man, oh ya, f*** him, he left you in a glass of cheap warm gin." This track is reminiscent of the sweet potato based "nacho" cheese that is slathered overtop of the burger. Think about it. You've got a party going on. In the corner, milk, rennet and the cultures are all smoking weed and getting drunk. While they aren't paying attention along comes sweet potato, nutritional yeast and coconut milk. They don't give a f*** about what those other three are doing, tradition or unspoken rules. All they know is that there is one hot, bulgogi covered burger needing some cheese on top. They work their magic and the rest is history.
"Helium Dreamer" wasn't a song I liked the first two or three times I listened to Higher Power. It felt too much like a one trick pony compared to most of the rest of the album. Scream a single key verse, yell something during the chorus, repeat and do again. But at some point I stopped looking at it as just a straightforward hardcore track and I realized that sprinkled around those screams, which were actually quite catchy screams mind you, were some pieces of rock and roll musicianship. I came to appreciate the song, much in the way I have come around to both brussels sprouts and kimchi. My first few experiences with both of these were pretty unremarkable. Now, I'm a big fan of both. I decided for this burger, I wanted to pair these two vegetable based dishes together to create a sort of brussels sprout kimchi relish. The topping is fabulous enough to eat on its own but works even better when part of something larger (just like "Helium Dreamer").
Higher Power wraps up with the Dirty Nil's version of a power ballad called "Bury Me at the Rodeo." The song features scaled back (or at least as scaled back as the Dirty Nil seems to go) vocals with only momentary traipses into the red. The music is still bursting with feedback but this version is created by strumming once or twice and then moving the instrument closer to the amp. "Bury Me at the Rodeo" is less of a sprint and more of a slow jog through the park. The chorus sees the band at their most melodic, making it totally appropriate for a rock and roll funeral. I'd compare this track to the burger's bun which also signifies the end. It is both the first and last thing that you will come into contact with while eating this sandwich. A good bun can take this burger from great to out of this world. A bad one can drop the entire sandwich down a rung or two.
Overall, I absolutely love the Dirty Nil's Higher Power. Track after track of rock and roll that is meant to be played loud. I haven't felt this way about an entire rock album since the Menzingers' last album came out two years ago. Higher Power is probably the most complete punk debut (I know the band doesn't want to be called punk but I can't help it, that is the vibe I get here) since Dillinger Four's Midwestern Songs of the America's came out in 1998. Yes, my friends, I've been waiting 18 years for an album like Higher Power to come back around. While there were definitely some lean years in there, the Dirty Nil makes the wait so worth it.