by Dylan Laug (@blackwithsapdad)
Yellow is the sound of the freaky punks from Olympia getting freakier. The 25 songs that make up Naomi Punk’s fourth record seem to document a metamorphosis for the band. This transformation is not one that has been fought against or even passively undergone, but instead one that the three members seem to each strive for at every turn. That’s not to say the album lacks similarities to their previous albums or odd influences like the plunking of DEVO’s “Mechanical Man” or the lo-fi experiments contained within The Microphones’ The Glow Pt. 2. Yet, just below the surface of the cursory listen is something even more primal, lurking just outside of clarity, that chews you up and spits you out on the other side of the 74-minute ride that is Yellow.
For the initiated, the thought of a 25 song Naomi Punk record might be a bit daunting. They’ve been a band that works with a unique, but relatively narrow pallet, utilizing buzzing and angular dual guitars that bounce off each other as they swirl and thrash through the drums. However, Yellow showcases Naomi Punk taking these tools that have defined their earlier albums and re-purposing them to generate a sound that is more cinematic and grand in scope. The dirge-like qualities of “Chains” echo previous songs like “Eleven Inches” from 2012’s Television Man, but, with added creaking and other grinding studio experiments, come across as even more sludgy and more sinister than anything Naomi Punk has done previously. The angularity that has always been central to Naomi Punk’s approach is pushed and bent to its extremes in album highlights “Carniceria” and “Journey to the Top,” where the jagged guitar work is nearly animalistic, yet somehow remains stuck in your head for hours. Even the melody that came in the form of “oohs” and “whoas” on Television Man come across darker and heavier when buried in songs such like “Perfect” or when the front-and-center “yeahs” of “Cookie” mirror the chorus-like effect on the guitar.
The experimentation does not only add layers to the sound of Yellow, but serves as a foundation for the cinematic vision Naomi Punk presents for the album. The buzzing that kicks off “Tiger Pipe” sounds like you are standing next to a beehive, reminding you that you’re just another drone occupying “the hive” that is Planet Earth. Meanwhile, the sounds of flapping bird wings on “Yellow Cone Hat” or “Scorpion Glue” recall the multiple mentions of “angel wings” throughout the album. Furthermore, the noisy instrumental interludes like “Taurus” or “The Sound of Music” are now more clearly a part of the building narrative rather than acting as breaks from the onslaught of guitars and drums that they sometimes felt like on previous albums. In fact, “Matroska” sounds like some eerie piece of soundtrack from an episode of Twin Peaks or X Files; you can almost feel some sort of alien abduction playing out through your headphones or speakers.
The metamorphosis on Yellow is more than just sonic; it plays out heavily in the lyrical themes of the record, as well. From the persistent dares of “Change my frame of mind” during “Chapter II” to the celebratory declaration of “I found my angel wings” in “Gotham Brake,” vocalist and guitarist Travis Coster seems to frame this transformation in the context of a larger awakening to an ego-driven modern society antagonizing the nature it feeds off of and bleeds dry. Communicating the problems this sort of parasitic behavior creates seems to be urgent for the band when on “Gotham Brake” a disembodied, deeply modulated voice (either alien or Earth itself) demands that you “severely apologize to the natural habitat.”
In the five years since Television Man, Naomi Punk have taken their churning, queasy “heavy punk” to new places, absorbing their surroundings and letting them seep back out in unsettling ways over the course of these 25 songs. This metamorphosis contained within Yellow is especially interesting in that it simultaneously invokes déjà vu and seems wholly new and fresh, even at its most challenging moments.
If you aren’t also changed by the swirling digestion of Yellow, take another spin around the hive. Mother Earth implores you.