Daniel's Staff Pick: February 16, 2023

Rat Nip: My Pillow 7” (Songbook Records, 2023)

Rat Nip’s previous 7”, Comfortable Chair, was Record of the Week when it came out in September 2020, and My Pillow would have been Record of the Week this week if it hadn’t already sold out. I knew this record was limited and that it would be really good, so I got what I thought would be enough copies to last us a minute. However, they arrived at the same time as the Koro repress, and we got a massive flood of orders. Over the past week, I’ve picked a lot of orders that had both Koro and Rat Nip 7”s, and with good reason. I try to reserve the Record of the Week honor for things we can sell to you, so fuck it… I’ll make Rat Nip my staff pick.

For those of you who didn’t catch Rat Nip’s demo tape or first EP, at their core, Rat Nip is a dark and heavy hardcore band in the tradition of Black Flag’s Damaged. While Rat Nip doesn’t imitate Black Flag’s musical quirks in the manner of Annihilation Time or someone like that, the desperate vibes are similar. Like Rollins on Damaged, Rat Nip’s vocalist sounds like they’re mustering all their strength for a last spasm of anguish after soaking up years of abuse. While Rat Nip’s singer never goes fully unhinged a la “Damaged I,” the comparison I hear is based on all the pain mixed in with the power and aggression. Rat Nip’s vocals don’t feel like posturing; they feel like they come from somewhere deep and real.

Rat Nip’s rhythm section is rock solid, executing these tracks with the workmanlike precision and power one expects from a band from Pittsburgh, where the bar for hardcore punk is so high. The rhythm section rarely calls attention to itself, but if you are listening, there are moments of finesse like the blink-and-miss-‘em bass breaks in “Too Late” that betray just how deft and intricate these performances are.

The star of My Pillow, though, is the guitar. It’s one thing to find a workable guitar tone and use it for the entire record (something way too many bands cannot do), but it’s something else to use the tone and texture of the guitar in an interesting, artistic way. The riffs on My Pillow could stand on their own, but they’re enhanced by the way Rat Nip sculpts the sound. Much of the record uses a Public Acid-type approach of one guitar track with a crunchy tone and another one that’s totally fucked (or at least fucked from a different direction), but it’s far from a formula. Just check out my favorite track, “Too Late,” whose slow part features a crystal clear guitar chiming on the skinny strings before it descends into a black metal-ish, reverb-drenched spooky lead. Another favorite moment is in “Old Sky,” where you’re bopping along to a fist-pumping verse and then when the chorus kicks in this super chunky, Celtic Frost-sounding guitar track touches down in the mix for just that part. So sick.

Rat Nip’s attention to tone and texture also extends to the non-hardcore passages on My Pillow. There are several brief moments of haunting static and feedback, and a short sound collage between “Hurt People” and “Old Sky” that is genuinely fucking creepy. I would be interested to hear more stuff like that, but I’m sure Rat Nip doesn’t want to become fucking Neurosis or something.

If you’re wondering about my photo for this piece, here’s the story. A few weeks before My Pillow came out, a promo package arrived at Sorry State from Songbook Records containing a poster for My Pillow (currently hanging in Sorry State’s window) and the baggie I’m holding. It’s labeled “prop for the new insert,” and, without the actual insert, I was puzzled why they sent me a bag of Fritos and dried fruit. While the image on the insert isn’t easy to parse, I take it that the baggie contains actual “rat nip” that, like the body of the punk who just offed himself in the photo, will provide a tasty treat for our rodent friends.

Like I said above, unfortunately My Pillow is sold out at Sorry State and from Song Book Records. Song Book says they won’t repress the record, so if you see a copy floating around a distro or shop, grab it while you have the chance.

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