There’s something inherently critic-proof about acts like Aye Nako. It’s the kind of music that doesn’t want to be liked – it simply demands to be heard. This is hardly a new attitude for a punk band, but the distinctly modern viewpoint of The Blackest Eye – with its surprisingly thoughtful exploration of race and sexuality –is a take on punk that seems fresh and vital.
The album opens with a gorgeous, lengthy guitar intro: aggressive and lethargic at the same time, ‘Leaving the body’ is the kind of song you feel in your sternum –drawing you in with liquid, sliding guitar riffs, then pulling you out with sudden discords and changes in rhythm.
It’s not easy listening by any means. A lot of the tracks can be hard to follow, but this is not necessarily a negative. ‘Killswitch’ is a jumble of different lyrics being sung across each other, a track that comes at you from all angles but is still somehow gentle. The band’s facebook page describes their music as ‘Sad punk songs about being queer, trans and black,’ and it’s an accurate description: there is something melancholy, something strangely tender about these profound punk songs.
There is still a great deal of rage to be found here: ’Human Shield’ is an angry, discordant mess, in the best possible way. Similarly, ‘White Noise’ is a furious middle finger to white privilege, and a genuinely profound exploration of racial identity. Vocalist Mars Ganito approaches this issue from a deeply personal and affecting angle, singing about bleaching his skin and mocking society’s racist values: ‘How do you ever tell us apart?’. ‘White Noise’ also shows off Aye Nako’s 90s grunge influences, with a brilliant nirvana-esque bassline.
There’s certainly aspects of this grunginess that don’t work as well as they could. Toward the end of the album, Ganito’s vocals definitely start to grate, sounding more and more like a monotonous drone that doesn’t seem to match the passion of his acerbic lyrics. However, even flaws like this lend something to the album, giving its tracks a disaffected, uninterested quality, and making them seem all the more appropriate for the disillusioned youth they’re appealing to.
The lyrics are almost unintelligible on first listen, requiring numerous replays or a quick trip to google to understand. This is music whose meaning has to be worked out: enjoying it is an earned experience. You can’t zone out with The Blackest Eye on in the background: you need to pay attention to it, to sit down and think about what Ganito is saying, and – more importantly – why he’s saying it.
This is truly punk for the modern era: the voice of the rejects and misfits of our society, opening up questions of race, sexuality and gender in the kind of angry and unapologetic way that can’t be achieved with any other genre. It’s anarchic and often uncomfortable stuff, but it’s fun, it’s rewarding, and, in its own way, it’s hugely important.
‘The Blackest Eye’ is out now on Don Giovanni records. The full track-listing is…