In the same way that I like my indie slow, layered, and meditative—brand new The National out on May 20 you say? Don’t mind if I do!—I like my punk fast, fun, aggro, and unrelenting. “Nervous Wreck,” the debut full-length release by Montreal melodic punk band Dutch Nuggets, is blazingly fast, unapologetically in-your-face, and unyielding in its delivery of genuine skate punk riffs.
From the outset, I feel bad mentioning in a review of a hot off the press album by an up-and- coming band that it sounds very much like it was recorded twenty years ago. So let me be clear: I mean this as a compliment to be taken in the best possible way. I’m an old fart who grew up on Lagwagon and NOFX in the mid-nineties. I all but lost interest in punk music in the early-2000s when it seemed like the kind of full-speed melodic punk I craved was slowly fading away from the main stage. I had a sliver of hope with Rise Against, but we all remember when that ship sailed.
With Dutch Nuggets’ brand of fast-tempo melodic punk I feel validated in my stubbornness of the last few years to keep on looking for fresh utterances of the rapid-fire skate punk I always longed for. Contrary to what one might think of a band whose style clearly harks back to another era, the material on “Nervous Wreck” doesn’t sound hopelessly dated or derivative. Rather, it sounds like the end product of punk rockers who have studied the likes of early NOFX, Lagwagon, and Pennywise, have learned their lessons well, and have amalgamated seamlessly all that we’ve come to expect from that sub-genre.
A song like the opener “Not a Straight Line,” with its anthemic harmonies with both guitar and vocals, compares quite well with the best from the Fat Wreck and Epitaph assembly lines circa 1994, and given the watershed status of that year with regards to punk rock, this is no small compliment. “Shovel & Grinny” is another strong track, classic punk guitar solo and all, not totally unlike something Ten Foot Pole might have pulled off in their heyday. Those and album closer “Coffee Stain Pattern” I find are the more convincing compositions. And though I have my favorites, it’s not as if the rest of the album is a throwaway. Quite the opposite, every title has something interesting to offer, either in the arrangements or the vocal harmonies (is it just me or does vocalist Gab Malette bring back echoes of “Punkrockacademyfightsong” era Dave Smalley?).
A bit less convincing however is their choice to leave a 3 minute gap between the latter song and the actual (hidden?) last track. It would make sense if it were an obvious comedy act à la Blink-182; the type of thing you listen to once and never bother with again. But here it’s definitely a full-fledged song that reveals a bit of their melodic hardcore sensibility. I’m just not sure what the gap is supposed to accomplish in that case.
In the end, what I like especially is that they don’t attempt to hide their roots behind overcomplicated song structures and doubtful experiments. They believe in their musicianship and do not suffer from any anxiety of influence (that’s Harold Bloom, google it), and rightly so, for the album features more than a few catchy melodic punk songs that are very nicely put together indeed. I for one am quite contented with that.