Album Review: The Dirty Nil – Fuck Art

Our favorite Canadian punks are back with a brand new record to show 2021 who’s boss. 

2020 has been rough to put it lightly – a global pandemic, a close call on WWIII, raging wildfires, violence in the streets and way too many people with a mass media platform that really shouldn’t be having one. But we can all agree that maybe we’ve had enough songs and records written about isolation and all the doomy and gloomy bits. The Dirty Nil thankfully felt the same way and so on Fuck Art, you’ll find none of those shenanigans.

Instead you’ll find a riffy flurry of tracks about failed relationships, getting your bike stolen, idiots on the internet, the anxiety of entering your 30s, and listening to Slayer in your Dodge Caravan because you’re overcompensating for turning into a soccer dad. So basically all the things we were worrying about before we switched on notifications for news apps and filtered everything to only be about Covid. 

Nonetheless, as 2020 robbed everyone of meet-ups with friends, and nearly decimated the entire music industry on the planet (no one said this would be all rainbows and butterflies), it also meant recording new albums may have proven a lot more tricky and different than before. Luke, Ross and Kyle met up in Toronto’s Union Studios with Seattle-based producer John Goodmanson (who commandeered the Nil’s 2018 Juno Award-nominated crusher, Master Volume), the ‘vid had just started it’s mission to take over North America.

“It was a really strange atmosphere,” Luke says. “We were just trying to have fun and insulate ourselves from the bad news. But it got to the point where, just after we finished the drums and the bass, John had to fly back to Seattle, or else he was going to be stuck in Canada. He made the last flight out. Then, the studio engineer Darren McGill turned to me and said, ‘We have to close the studio in two days.’ So I had two days to record all of the guitars for the album, which typically takes a week or two. We subsisted on pizza pockets and soda water and coffee for two 16-hour stretches.”

But instead of pausing recording on the record entirely, the band finished everythign remotely by sending things back and forth. “It was the one thing we had control over while humanity was powerless,” Bentham recalls. “It became a time where we could crack open a couple cans, play some tunes, and focus on what it was we actually could do – which was make the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record of all time. It was just the most insane, crazy, ramshackle putting-together of an album that I’ve ever had to do. I was just a wreck physically and mentally. When I heard the first mixes back, I almost cried because I was so happy.”

Recalling the naming of the album comes from what is probably the most un-punk environment you could think of. Having been gifted a painting class, Bentham says:

“Our teacher was showing us how to do something really basic, like paint a sky,” he explains. “And this older guy in the back was like, ‘hey, mine doesn’t look like that!’ And then, ‘I got a brush-hair stuck in my painting!’ And then ‘mine doesn’t look like everybody else’s!’ And the teacher goes, ‘well that’s the beauty of art—you’re just going to explore and find yourself.’ And there’s this long silence and I just heard him say, ‘fuck art.’ This 72-year-old dude was basically having a tantrum! It was kind of an eye-opening experience, because I had this myth in my mind that, at some point, everybody gets their shit together. But seeing this old guy complain reminded me that, ‘oh, no—not everybody gets a grip on life.’ I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After I told my mom it was going to be the album title, she left two different messages on my answering machine trying to convince me to change it.”

On Fuck Art, truly do what they do best – no experimenting with electronic sounds, no playing around with melodies that may be more radio friendly. The band stick to their DIY punk rock attitude that pulls from classic rock as much as it does from 80’s indie, and in return creates a masterpiece that will easily put them on the top 10 albums of the year on any self-respecting list.

First track Doom Boy is such an anthemic power-pop tune that it will be difficult to get it out of your head. In fact, whilst recording the track, Bentham quite literally had a blowout: “I have the pants to prove it!”

Across Fuck Art, The Dirty Nil prove yet again why they’re such a rock force to be reckoned with. Not a single song to skip, every single tune infused with as much as energy as possible and finding new ways to make the listener keep their ears close to the speakers. Ride Or Die is teh ultimate rock love anthem that rivals any Motörhead riffs or Bon Jovi anthems (yes, we said it!).

And even when writing songs about relationships, The Dirty Nil keep their hearts on their sleeves. On Blunt Force Concussion the trio openly admit they’d rather have their head cracked in two than saying I Love You. If someone says men can’t express their emotions hasn’t met The Dirty Nil – though we’re not sure how parteners would react to THAT much honesty.

“I think we have a pretty distinct knowledge and understanding and comfort about what we do,” Bentham says. “I’m proud of the job that we’ve done between expanding ourselves and our efforts to navigate the modern landscape as much as possible. But we’ve never ever sacrificed the core elements of our sound. We have a thing, and we’ve never compromised it, even though at times we faced a lot of external pressure to do so.”

This attitude shines brightly across all of Fuck Art, in fact it shines in bright ten feet letters on the Hollywood Hills. Tracks like Elvis ’77, Hello Jealousy and The Guy Who Stole My Bike are perfect examples of that uncompromised sound that not only fans know and love, but that also set them apart from the ever expanding scene of alternative rock bands.

And speaking of the notifications of doom and gloom hitting your phone 24/7, the background of the record is very much based on that never ending shitstorm of news and posts filling our lives on a daily basis. You can hear that frustration bubbling up and boil over on Fuck Art’s emotional centerpiece and final song One More and the Bill, which climaxes with a vow to “smash my TV, smash my phone, leave politics alone, go outside for a while.”

As Bentham explains, “A lot of the feelings that I had going into this record—and which are represented in some of the songs—had to do with getting really tired of seeing people riding up on their high horses, especially online, and commanding other people what to do, and saying terrible things about people who aren’t instantly complying with them—you know, the complete pompousness and posturing of being online. I was around for the advent of social media, and I think there’s a universal agreement that this is the worst that social media has ever been. It’s never been this toxic and fucking depressing—it’s a flaming garbage fire every day. And yet our lives are kind of dependent on it.”

2021 is only starting but we can confirm that it will be very difficult to kick Fuck Art off our album of the year pedestal. And if heavens allow we shall get live music back in 2021, we sure know that nothing will be a greater joy than hearing these eleven tracks filled with punk and attitude live.