If you heard Erik Nervous’ mighty 2018 collection ‘Assorted Anxieties’, you probably thought you had his sound pegged. Bruce Gilbert power chords, rickety garage shonk and a wilful primitivism that starts with a drum machine and ends with a heroically scuffed approach to melody – it all adds up to something pretty irresistible, of course, but what if we told you there was more to come?
This time Erik’s joined by The Beta Blockers, and the sound they concoct together is utterly magical. OK, when this self-titled LP comes rattling out of the gate with 90-second barnstormer ‘Violent Dreams’, you may suspect it’s just an amplified version of the old stuff, albeit with full band, but trust me: you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Gravure sees ‘em tinkering with an angular skronk-funk that tilts an ear towards yer Minutemen, yer Bogsheds, yer Andy Gills (while ensuring both feet are firmly cemented to as many dumbass hardcore punk records as possible). The thoroughly unexpected ‘Blasted Heath’ brings synths to the foreground in masterly fashion, while the mutant dub of ‘Want To Not Wanna’ feels like a dust-up in a muddy puddle with an ashen-faced Pere Ubu. And there’s still more to come.
It’ll keep you guessing, this record. It’s still recognisably the work of Erik Hart (for that is his true name), only distorted and further frayed at the edges. It’s the sort of snappily smart sidestep you wish more bands would be willing to take, while remaining within touching distance from their roots. Best of all, it places the Michigan-based wonder alongside fellow punk explorers like Uranium Club; utterly aware of punk/hardcore/post-punk/whatever’s past and its limitations, but determined to find the lesser-explored gaps that lie between and make them his own.
Make no mistake, this is a mighty record. By the time the Saints-style brass of ‘Make Up To Break Up’ brings this frantically tense album within sight of a glorious conclusion, we’re in full party mode, ready to carry Erik Nervous around on a hastily-assembled throne before dumping him in a barrel of beer. If this is what expanding your horizons can do, let’s all set sail for the edge of the world immediately. Even if we fall right off the side, it’ll be worth it
Our take: We’ve seen several releases from Erik Nervous over the past few years—including a compilation called Assorted Anxieties on Drunken Sailor and Neck Chop and a killer EP of obscure Devo covers—but this is his first release with backing band the Beta Blockers. This incarnation finds Erik Nervous leveling up with a clearer sound while retaining the big hooks of his earlier work. You’ll still hear plenty of Devo influence, with tracks like “Blasted Heath” reminding me of Freedom of Choice, that band’s pop peak, while “Want to Not Wanna” relies on quirkier drum machine rhythms more akin to their earlier, home-recorded material. The album also incorporates post-punk influences, with the angular lead guitar and fast post-punk rhythms on “Gravure” making it a standout that fans of Shopping or early Priests will love. The album ends with the climactic “Worry,” whose intertwining guitar lines remind me of the Buzzcocks’ most transcendent instrumental moments. Sometimes I’m sad to see an artist adopt a more polished sound, but the move suits Erik Nervous well, making this LP his best work yet.