A month ago, Cosmopolitan published an article entitled “H&M’s new campaign is the feminist advert we all need in our lives.” “The reason we love this ad so much,” author Jess Edwards wrote, “is because it manages to evoke all the right feelings in all the right ways.”
The ad does indeed check everything off the list—big women, small women, women of color, women with hair on their heads, women with hair on their armpits, women with no hair, butch women, trans women, femme women, queer women, old women, young women, business women, casual women, manspreading women, women on land, underwater women, even women who eat food.
“Unsurprisingly the ad is going down well with the customers, too,” Edwards ends the article, before embedding a litany of tweets thanking the company for the empowerment it hath bestowed—an exhibition of the campaign’s viral success masquerading as societal progress.
“They’re really trying to get that ‘We’re for everyone, we’re for everybody, we’re for every gender!’ ” Gems, the genderqueer-identifying singer and drummer of Seattle punk trio Nail Polish tells me. “But is H&M really for that? Or are they just trying to sell more clothes by presenting ‘inclusivity?’ I had this silly revelation that at the heart of my fears and anxiety with social media is ultimately—[that] capitalism is the evil beneath the world and our society, and what else are we doing but selling ourselves and buying into capitalism by trying to convince everyone to buy your personality or your identity?”
Punk bands have always railed against consumerism and artifice, but few punk groups circa 2016 have translated the anxieties and pitfalls of modern life—as it plays out IRL and online—quite as concisely as Nail Polish. Authentic Living, the group’s second tape through Help Yourself Records (out Fri., Oct. 21), is the sonic equivalent of a nervous scroll through Facebook—loud, rife with barbed, buried critiques, and severely disjointed.
The latter is definitely the first thing the cursory listener will notice about the band. “I’ll go on record saying fuck rock ’n’ roll,” bassist and vocalist Aidan Fitzgerald says. “We don’t want to sit on this crescendo and build it for 10 bars—we write songs for the contemporary attention span.”
He’s not lying. Nail Polish’s songs, the longest of which is two minutes and one second, are a jarring collage of jagged musical phrases and roughly shorn ideas, distilled to their cores and spewed back out with hypercaffeinated, no-wave energy. “Chophouse Row,” a song about the spiritually void “artisanal shared-workspace/goat-cheese/handmade-leather emporium” that popped up on Capitol Hill last year, opens with three piercing, monotonous stabs from guitarist Sloane Flashman before chaos breaks loose, Flashman’s guitar turning into screeching noodles over Gems’ tumbling drums and Fitzgerald’s chugging, neurotic bass lines. Suddenly, 10 seconds later, everything snaps into place and coheres into a “chorus,” as Fitzgerald, impersonating the businessman behind the development, deadpans “I move into your neighborhood/Because I always take what’s mine.” Then it all falls apart again two seconds later.
Rather than simply throwing back or adopting accepted signifiers, Nail Polish has found vitality as a punk band by situating themselves here, in the present day, in the microcosm of Seattle. When not aiming at explicit local landmarks like Chophouse Row, the band tackles the city’s sometimes-maddening social dynamics. The harried title track, “Authentic Living,” features Gems’ and Fitzgerald’s overlapping sardonic cries of “I WANT A LIFESTYLE!” and “Outdoor adventures! Document everything!”
“We’re poking fun at the irony of searching for authenticity by escaping from your daily routine to go into to nature, and then Instagramming the whole time to get that perfect shot of you on the mountain with your arms spread while the sun sets in the distance,” Gems says.
“It’s a question of intention,” Fitzgerald says. “But then, I also get really frustrated with the word ‘intention.’ Buzzwords like ‘staying present.’ The whole ‘I’m staying present and life is beautiful’ thing—it’s like sometimes I think ‘Am I the only one who’s freaking out about this whole life thing?’ ”
“There’s a lot of privilege to be able to say ‘I’m staying present,’ ” Gems jumps in. “I’m going to take a break from my condo lifestyle to go to nature and when I come home, everything’s fine again, because I can be oblivious to everything else around me again.”
While the band acknowledges social media’s power to coalesce movements and communities and effect change, they also refreshingly admit social media is an intimidating, disorienting landscape for the most part, one that too often feels hollow. Although the band isn’t totally anti-communication (they exist on a label that does indeed send PR e-mails, and, yes, they have a Facebook page), they share a thematic spiritual connection to Olympia’s cadre of cloistered outsider bands like Naomi Punk, G.L.O.S.S., and Vexx—bands who purposefully shirk websites or any type of cohesive, clear digital presence in favor of pure musical communication.
“I think my disconnect is, there is a time for bands and artists to exist, or let their work exist on its own and take on a life of its own without promotion or the constant barrage of online salesmanship,” Gems says.
“I have no idea what my Facebook voice is,” Fitzgerald says, “I don’t know how to write about something from my personal life or something I care about without editing it to hell or deleting it. But I know what the Nail Polish voice is.”
I ask the band what, indeed, that voice is.
“Timid and anxious,” Gems says, “and laden with guilt about seeming ingenuine.” Authentic Living Release Show With Pleather, Hoop, Figures. Office Space (ask a punk for directions). All ages. 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 21.