The first time I donned the headphones for Unleash Yourself, the debut LP from Brooklyn’s Aye Nako, I happened to be clicking through an album of photos taken at an event the day before. Between the familiarly heartwarming pop-punk and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics (sung from a self-aware point of view of someone labeled an outsider), the album managed, as if by magic, to induce nostalgia for something that happened less than 24 hours prior.
Self-described as “homopop” and “queercore,” the band’s songs eagerly examine and explore the self, relationships, and distance, vocalist Mars attempting to find a way in a confusing, difficult world. “And here I thought I would know better by now,” she groans to open “Molasses”, later wishing that someone could just “look from where I’m seeing.”
But though Aye Nako have plenty to say about being outsiders, they’ve found some solid footing. Even the most introspective lyrics are backed by frenetic rhythms and sung in a soaring hook that demands to be mirrored with a grin. Angie’s slap-click tom rolls on the choppy “Cut it Off” make bopping along to a song about being controlled by puppeteers second nature, while the tight balladry of “The Rind” hinges on a call to be “in the company of someone like me”.
There are smacks of Dinosaur Jr. here and there, and that’s not just because producer Justin Pizzoferrato engineered the last few Dino releases. No, Mars’ earnest, drawn delivery and massive guitar ripples both wear some of Mascis’ measured guitar hero demeanor as well, though without aping either directly. And Mascis initially stood similarly as an outsider, at his time embracing huge guitar hooks and slacker honesty in the face of glam metal and new wave vestiges.
And, similar to the way that You’re Living All Over Me acted as a testament for “weirdos,” an opportunity for the outsiders to have fun together in their own voice, Unleash Yourself simultaneously challenges and embraces a role as an other, creating a sincerely energizing experience and thinking about its place in the world at large.
Essential Tracks: “Molasses”, “Cut it Off”, and “The Rind”