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Nots - 3 Music Album Reviews

The Memphis post-punk band’s third album wages guerrilla warfare against the patriarchal surveillance state.

We’re constantly being monitored. If you have a smartphone, this is as true as if you lived under the grip of a Communist regime. The Memphis post-punk band Nots aren’t alone in feeling suffocated by this—an omnipresent eye doesn’t usually cause a welcoming feeling. Even the gods can be vengeful. It’s been three years since their sophomore album, Cosmetic, which was influenced by both the Chilean leftist poet Pablo Neruda and the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet’s Human Landscapes, written while Hikmet was a political prisoner. Even after downsizing to three members, their third album, 3, continues their brawny, subversive, and self-assured stride.

Throughout 3, Nots remind us that no minor action or thought goes unnoticed. “Safety illusion/A neon net/A surveillance veil,” shouts Natalie Hoffman on “Surveillance Veil,” authoritatively but far away, as if through a long PVC pipe. She comes closer at the end of the song, yelling to wake us up: “Watching them, watching the rain, watching everything mundane.” Hoffmann’s guitar rings like a siren and Charlotte Watson’s drums keep an anxious, accelerated pace.

Under watchful eyes, our behavior changes, our personality changes, our reality changes. On album highlight “Rational Actor,” Hoffmann coldly sings about the power surrendered to technology: “Everything handed to an empty screen/A distracted sea/An elusive dream.” Images of vastness are conjured over wild-west percussion and bassist Meredith Lones’ roaming plucks. Intergalactic synths scatter in search of escape from the hollow glare of a computer. Nots remind us that omnipresent monitoring, whether by security cameras or online audiences, affects even our free will. Surveillance technologies and the institutions behind them not only track us; they influence our behavior and our choices, whether we want to admit it or not.

Psychedelic embellishments contribute to the uneasy mood. On “In Glass,” there are eerie, warping syths. Their trippy punk hybrid has a brilliant, hallucinatory effect. There are things lurking, looking over Nots’ shoulder. The trio thrashes and contorts in rebellion against their threatened agency.

At times, the intense feedback and warping synths weaken the frightening lyrics. The most striking song is the surreal and poignant “Woman Alone.” Women are taught to travel in packs: Whether walking home late at night or going on a blind date, we live in a world where women are cornered. A woman alone is a radical and vulnerable concept. “Woman in a landscape/Where eyes line the frame,” hollers Hoffmann, in an ominously vivid rendering of the male gaze. Guitar distortion wails in the background against a racing bassline that charges the song with urgency. “What’s that like?” Hoffmann spits. “What’s that like to be a subject analyzed?”

It’s been nearly fifty years since Roe v. Wade, and the battle for control over a woman’s body is still ongoing. There’s an anonymous quote that’s been circulating in recent years about how the United States might look if we were as strict with young men who buy guns as we are with women who seek abortions. In this light, the fight against surveillance is inherently feminist; Nots’ third album is a guerilla campaign against surveillance in the service of systemic control. With 3, Nots make fierce rock music equally apt for moshing in solidarity or smashing an Alexa—all forms of control in chaos.

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