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Nots - "Cosmetic" | Album Review

by Kat Harding (@iwearaviators)

The cover of Cosmetic, the latest album from Memphis’ Nots is striking. Released in September 2016 on Goner Records, the art is a photo close up of a bathroom countertop, taken by singer Natalie Hoffman, a swirling pink and white backdrop with a grimy sink and damaged mirror. Someone has just washed their hands -- there are bubbles in the drain -- and the whole thing could use a good scrub. It’s the perfect foil to the pink, spotless and brightly lit bathroom filled with makeup and hair products comes to mind when meditating on “traditionally girly” things. These women are not in a “girl band,” they’re in a punk band. And this bathroom could be a stop on tour, where they’re spreading their guitar-fueled rage city to city.

Since crashing onto the scene in 2012, Nots have released a handful of seven inches and two full-length albums. In addition to Hoffman, Nots, comprised of Alexandra Eastburn (synth), Charlotte Watson (drums) and Meredith Lones (bass), only get better and better with each release. We Are Nots, their 2014 full-length debut, has 11 searing tracks clocking in at just 26 minutes. With only 9 tracks stretched out to 36 minutes, the songs on Cosmetic take more time to tell their message. The frantic feel is still there; the album bursts open with “Blank Reflection.” Rhythmic drums start the song, followed by a deep bass line, bubbly synths and Natalie’s signature gravelly shout-singing. Anxiety is kicked up another notch on the following track “Rat King,” a post-mortem on the breakdown of a relationship, either personal or professional. “I ate your dirt and spit it back at you” Hoffman wails, urging the Rat King to “place your threats.” You don’t want to cross Nots, who on “New Structures” assure you “I found my way/ I made my rage” accompanied by spacey synths paired with crashing cymbals and frenzied guitar strumming.  

The title track “Cosmetic” is a reflection on image and retaining agency of it, while opposing becoming “your American dream.” Lamenting “I’m losing all control,” the song reaches its height with swirling guitars and a call and response of “cosmetic, aesthetic” before dissolving into a reverby wash. Wrapping up the album is the longest track, “Entertain Me.” At more than seven minutes long, the song is almost a fifth of the entire album and served as the lead single building up to its release. Whirling synths create an uncertain atmosphere while Hoffman screams “entertain me, tell me who to be” calling out the nature of the media -- everything is homogenized and you’re expected to adapt to fit in. Any advice of the sort will be immediately discarded by Nots. The album is an important listen: it’s a hostile takedown of the world today. Anger gets shit done.