Aye Nako - The Blackest Eye (Cover Artwork)

Aye Nako

The Blackest Eye (2015)

Don Giovanni Records

Brooklyn's Aye Nako make it obvious upfront that they put just as much weight into personal politics as they do the heady influence of Daydream Nation. The difference between their newest EP, The Blackest Eye, and their 2013 album Unleash Yourself is that they have gotten significantly better at handling their influences. The Blackest Eye sees the band improving in songwriting, composition and lyrical effectiveness. While the band drops the overt sugar rush energy found on their debut album, their turn towards the dour doesn't necessarily make the songs any less infectious.

The members of Aye Nako revel in themes of gender issues, race and identity, all of which cast a discernible shadow over the songs on this EP. The band talked about their various backgrounds and experiences in a recent interview, some examples of which are extremely specific and far from ubiquitous. Yet the lyrics mingle between personal and poetic, never leaving the listener cold or isolated from the subject of the song.

Tracks like "Human Shield" and "Killswitch" are immediately catchy, offering off kilter melodies and oddly augmented (but effective) hooks. Other songs like "Sick Fuck" are more Sebadoh rather than Superchunk, skewing the music to match the melancholy of the lyrics. According to the previously mentioned interview, vocalist/songwriter Mars Dixon started taking testosterone since the recording of Unleash Yourself, which resulted in a whole new voice to wrap songs around. This change pairs well with the dissonant direction the instrumentals have taken, with Mars' yelp adapting to both the uptempo highs of "Human Shield" and the deep guitar screeches of the darker tracks like "White Noise."

On this EP, Aye Nako sounds very much like a band in transition. Yet, differentiating itself from some other transitional works, The Blackest Eye offers fully formed glimpses of a genuinely exciting path. The new sound doesn't come without it's share of awkward missteps, however. The driving melody of "Worms" seems stilted and forced, while closing track "Sick Fuck" loses steam during its five and half minute running time. Yet, it's hard to begrudge a band for faltering a bit when taking a step in a different direction. It's especially hard when the positive strides outweigh the growing pains as they do here.