No Sister: The Second Floor

They're postpunk, sure, but what exactly does that mean?

- 2016 was widely acknowledged to be a bit of an annus horribilis, but I think that was just fuel for the cold, stylish fire that burns in the music of Aussie postpunks, No Sister. Smart, serious, and disapproving, their first, self-titled full-length just dripped with disdain for everything that was going on around them. 2017 is shaping up to be another year in the shitter and -for every possible outcome up to and possibly including a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula- No Sister have quickly stepped in with another, even grimmer full-length.

So, it’s clear, right? No Sister were never exactly chummy, but right from the get-go second full-length, The Second Floor is, if you’ll forgive the phrase, a new level of aggression. Opener Always Already still has that Sonic Youth feel you’ll get from most No Sister material. It’s not just the guitar-work and its endless load of experimental but still surprisingly tuneful riffs, but that is a lot of it. It gives the song a strong echo of SY classic Bull In The Heather, but there’s more on here than that. Those freaky guitar sounds are worked across long, repetitive tracts that have more in common with Can and other kraut-rockers of yore. No Sister have always had a steely sense of tension in their sound, but this stretches it still more tautly. On any song on this new LP, but especially on the longer ones, it’s like you’re supposed to hold your breath from end to end, waiting for the pressure to drop. Only that’s not enough either: No Sister have cranked up both the volume and the distortion till this is less like the fashionably bloodless coldwave we know, instead lunging into the territory of bands like Batpiss or Metz. It’s postpunk but in a whole different way.

The thing is No Sister aren’t exactly like those bands and toying with their aesthetic choices, trying to staple them to the No Sister masthead is a bit challenging. The thing I find most disconcerting is that, despite the roaring guitars they’ve decided to keep those defiantly conversational spoken-word vocals. I’m not quite sure why it does my head in, I mean there are other bands that are stupendously savage, do spoken word and make it work, take Mark Of Cain for instance. It’s hard to go from arty post-punk to proto-hardcore brute, maybe No Sister just need to amp the savagery a bit. Every now and then I think they do, like on single Romantic NotionTiarney Miekus snarls like a hound that’s got a hold on it’s quarry: “Tell Me How!” she snaps repeatedly. It’s immediate and fierce and not something I expect from the long streams of cryptic and symbolic lyrics that No Sister favour; but I do wish every song could be like this.

Second albums are supposed to be difficult, but they aren’t supposed to rush in, fully-formed, just a year after the first, packing a completely different sound. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with No Sister but it’s happening -both literally and figuratively- at high speed. At its best it breaks through into a style that’s new and brutal. If No Sister keep working at their present rate hopefully this is just the harbinger for a whole lot more like that. At the moment it may well still be the right record for this year, I think 2017 is going to leave a lot of people feeling savagely unsettled.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: The Second Floor
Artist: No Sister
Record Label: (Indie)