by David Anthony (@DBAnthony)
Aye Nako work because, even when they’re playing straight-ahead pop-punk, they push their sound to the limit. While the pop-punk tag is apt, it doesn’t completely fit either. The release of The Blackest Eye EP in 2015 saw the band still churning out the bubblegum pop songs found on its debut, Unleash Yourself, while adding bigger washes of guitar, more intricate leads, and increasingly ambitious songwriting to the mix. On Silver Haze, the band gets even more experimental without ever losing the plot.
Part of what makes Aye Nako stand apart from other pop-punk bands is that, while much of the genre can be seen as carefree fun, vocalist-guitarist Mars Dixon uses it as an outlet to discuss race and sexuality with an unflinching honesty. It’s a testament to Dixon’s ability to make these songs immediately digestible while also behooving a listener to sit with them, unfurling their message on repeat listens. A song like “Sissy” wastes no time getting going, sounding a fair share like one of the many Superchunk singles from the early-’90s, full of nimble, jittery guitar leads and infectious chorus. It’s easy to find yourself singing along to phrases, even if they are as impactful as, “Tell me what I need to stay safe on the streets.”
It’s this dichotomy that Aye Nako play into so expertly time and again on Silver Haze. “Particle Mace” has the bounce of a classic Helium track, darting between a handful of riffs while producing one big earworm in the process. It’s so subtle in its movements that it’s easy to miss how well crafted it is – and similarly easy to miss the remarkable line about chemtrails in the first chorus. It’s a snapshot of what makes Silver Haze such a moving work: it cannot be pinned down. The second you feel like you have figured it out, the band dart in a different direction, or uses lyrics to throw out hefty ideas that linger long after the song finishes. It’s something that sounds simple but, in actuality, is incredibly difficult to pull off. But that’s how the best pop-punk records always are.