The Dirty Nil - Minimum R&B (Cover Artwork)

The Dirty Nil

Minimum R&B (2017)

Fat Wreck Chords

The Dirty Nil came out with their debut full length a little more than a year ago which ended up being my favorite release of the year. It was a collection of well crafted, garage rock jams which maintained their initial thrill through repeated listens. Now, just over a year later, The Nil is back with a compilation album, featuring ten songs from their early 7”s and the previously unreleased closer, “Caroline”. Minimum R&B is more or less what I expected it to be. As the very nature of this release would suggest, it's not as comprehensive or qualitatively consistent as the band's debut, but it contains more than a few gems which justify its necessity as an official release.

The opener, “Fuckin’ up Young”, is, at least for me, the clear highlight of this project. With it’s anthemic chorus, rhythmically jarring verses, and passionate vocal performance, this track, along with its immediate successors, gives off a sort of Blue Album vibe. Other than the obvious issue of profanity, “Fuckin’ up Young” sounds like it could have been an alt rock radio anthem in the mid 90s (in the best way possible). The next couple of tracks, “Verona Lung” and “Little Metal Baby Fist” stick with this catchy, garagey, and overarchingly upbeat vibe. It isn’t until “Hate Is a Stone” that The Dirty Nil lets up its relentless energy, but only for a moment, as, about halfway through, the band ignites an empowering build into the track’s slow burning anthem of a chorus.

Cinnamon is another favorite of mine, though I’m not quite sure what I like about it so much, or what really sets it apart from the other songs here. It’s just a well crafted composition with instantly infectious choruses and encapsulating verses that steadily chug along in the space between them. On the other hand, “Cinnamon”’s B side, “Guided by Vices”, is one of my least favorite songs on the bill, not because it's an inherently a bad song, but more because it doesn’t have much of an identity apart from the band's natural character.

“Nicotine” really hooked me with its driving drums throughout the track’s first half. On paper, it’s a pretty simplistic and criminally short composition as a whole, but like much of the rest of the band’s output, it’s impossible not to get caught up in energy put forth on it.

The speed with which “Beat” was able to grab my attention floored me. It’s a simple hook, but god is it effective. I decided that I loved this song within the first (and I’m not exaggerating) 2 seconds. From there, “Beat” falls into a bit of the same problem as “Guided by Vices” until its redeematory finale.

“New Flesh” is another high point on Minimum R&B, and is the sole track to feature lead vocals from anyone but Luke Bentham. Former bassist, Dave Nardi, delivers a wonderfully eccentric performance that’s extremely effective as both an attention grabber and sustainer. His riveting sense of presence in the first 20 seconds fleshes out the arrangement, making up for the lack of any instrumentation outside of a blistering guitar passage. This vacuum turns the band’s reentry into the album into a euphoric sonic explosion. From there, “New Flesh” does not let up, but it doesn’t get much of a chance to anyways, because, like most of the entries from the Minimum R&B’s back half, it comes in at well under three minutes, even with the ten second bluff ending separating the meat of the song from its triumphant conclusion.

The momentum set up by “New Flesh” is well utilized in “Pale Blue”, which starts out almost as strongly as “Beat” with a grimy, almost post hardcore sounding bassline, and continues on to a composition so dynamic, it can be difficult to keep up, but I’ve found that “Pale Blue” is much better in the moment than in analysis.

The project closes out with its only new song, “Caroline”, and I’m honestly a bit underwhelmed. It’s not that The Dirty Nil can’t pull off a great ballad, as they’ve proven with cuts like “Hate Is a Stone” and “Bury Me At The Rodeo”, but for whatever reason this just isn’t doing it for me. Bentham makes the elongated syllables work on tracks like “Little Metal Baby Fist” where there’s more going on behind his singing, but the dreariness of “Caroline’’’s instrumental combined with this vocal style leaves the verses feeling somewhat empty. That said, “Caroline”, has a pretty nice payoff, albeit over three and a half minutes in.

Needless to say, “Caroline” isn’t my favorite Dirty Nil song, but I don’t mind it, especially as a closer to an album that listeners likely won’t develop too much of an emotional investment in as a whole. Such a notion may seem like a major smattering of the release, but the objective of Minimum R&B isn’t to achieve any sort of musical or conceptual cohesion. These songs weren’t originally intended to complement each other (though some do very nicely), and this leads to a disparity, in terms of consistency, between this album and its predecessor.

In short, this is essentially a collection of bonus tracks, some of which are extremely well written, but bonus tracks nonetheless. If you’re like me, just clamoring for some new material from The Dirty Nil, this whole album will likely satisfy, but don’t feel compelled to listen to anything more than “Fucking up Young”, “Veronica Lung”, and “Cinnamon” until you’ve heard Higher Power.