You may have heard Dream Nails before, but you haven’t heard them like this. Formed in 2015, the London band quickly made waves thanks to their quick-witted, razor-edged punk rock, but their self-titled debut album has taken its time, with the band mainly sticking to singles and EPs. Last year’s Take Up Space! – an acoustic live album that displayed their softer side while debuting several then-unreleased songs – was certainly an unconventional prelude to the arrival of that anticipated full-length, but the quartet are ready to charge into the spotlight.
They’ve cleaned up their sound a bit – with Dead Nature’s Tarek Musa behind the boards for their opening statement – but the increased production value is the only change in values here, with odes to self-acceptance, resilience and the queer experience very much intact. Comprised of Janey Starling (lead vocals), Anya Pearson (guitar/vocals), Mimi Jasson (bass/vocals) and Lucy Katz (drums/vocals), the band have put together a debut that’s economical, ferocious and thrilling in equal measure. Packing 10 tracks – some linked by skits – into well under half an hour, it’s buoyed by enthusiasm and earworm hooks.
The band have become known for their lyrics just as much as their music and the two make for a potent combination. ‘Jillian’ is their spin on a body-positive anthem and gets the record going in earnest, while old favourites ‘DIY’ and ‘Vagina Police’ – the latter, one of the band’s signature songs and every bit as impactful as it was when released as a single in 2018 – are updated takes on their past selves, their respective topics of self-worth and bodily autonomy a well-placed one-two punch right at the mid-point of the album. ‘Corporate Realness’, meanwhile, skewers workplace culture – Starling spits out office acronyms and phrases in an engaged staccato, but you can hear the disdain in her voice. “You are not what you must do in order to survive” she reminds listeners, a full-throated rejection of living to work.
‘Text Me Back (Chirpse Degree Burns)’ tackles the anxieties of dating in the modern age, Starling’s increasingly agitated vocals complemented by Pearson, Jasson and Katz’s multi-part harmonies – a slice of wry social commentary punctuated by knowing humour, something they can pull off just as well as they unleash their ire on the suitably forceful ‘Payback’, which pushes back against sexual harassment and violence (“We drowned in tears, we swam in pain / We pulled ourselves back from the grave / One day we’ll make you pay”). ‘This Is the Summer’ – set to a suitably sunny soundtrack – subverts a well-worn rock cliché for a pop-leaning song that rails against inaction on climate change (“Fracking and flooding and land grabs, denial / Money, white supremacy, all dripping in oil … The ones who pay aren’t the ones who made this”). It’s one of the highlights on a strong record that races by like it’s got no time to waste – no ballads, no slow songs, the listener only allowed brief periods to catch their breath thanks to the skits, which tie together the record’s narrative themes.
Closing with the powerful ‘Kiss My Fist’, which stands in solidarity against homophobic and transphobic violence with its refrain of, “You fear us more than we fear you,” the album comes clattering to a halt, its lyrical dexterity matched by the urgency of its music. It’s short enough that you can listen to it twice in an hour and have time to spare, and you’ll want to do just that. Everything up to this point has been a warm-up in comparison: Dream Nails have delivered one of the 2020s most vital albums – a joyous middle finger raised in the general direction of a messy and turbulent year.