Pay no mind to the tut-tutting pundits and their fancy beltway math: Despite a fatal superdelegate shortage and the press’s resultant cold shoulder, Bernie Sanders has already won the 2016 election where musical impact is concerned. Between the “Berniechella” mini-festival, the co-signs from noteworthy performers, and the impromptu concerts he’s been holding at his rallies all year long, Sanders’s cultural initiatives remain the strongest of any candidate to date.
But political surrogacy isn’t all about stump speeches, retweets, or voter drives; its impact relies on the artist’s ability to integrate a candidate’s platform into their contemporary work, both spiritually and symbolically. It’s no coincidence, then, that Jenny Lewis, Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster, and the Like’s Tennessee Thomas unveiled their new band, Nice as Fuck, at a Sanders benefit in Brooklyn shortly before the New York primary: As evidenced by the group’s surprise-released, self-titled debut, Nice as Fuck’s music offers a danceable, upbeat rebuttal to the Trump-ian creed of paranoia and negativity.
Lewis’s solo output has always hinged on a balance between glittering, hi-res sonics and unflinching emotional honesty, a discordant undertone the Rilo Kiley frontwoman amplified and thoroughly examined on her full-length LP, 2014’s The Voyager. But Nice as Fuck signals a steep departure from this full-bodied approach; the California native’s swapped her textured, intimate psychedelia for sparse postpunk, driven by Forster and Thomas’s crisp, unfussy (and often indistinguishable) grooves. While funky fretwork and staccato rhythms on tracks like “Cookie Lips” and “Guns” gesture to Tom Tom Club and company sans subtlety, the trio’s lyrics are anything but dated, addressing a host of modern anxieties: gun-lovers (“I don’t want to be afraid/Put your guns away”), terrorism (“Crisis is not ISIS”), and of course, ghost-ers (“I think I just got ghosted by Cookie Lips/What a dick”).
Like a seasoned stumper — or indeed, like Sanders himself — Lewis drives home the trio’s revolutionary platform repeatedly over the album’s 25-minute runtime. Instead of free health care, Nice as Fuck aggressively demand universal empathy: as Lewis explains on “Guns,” “The solution is revolution/Kill ’em with love.” They’ve even got their own theme song, a brief, Toni Basil–type number that sees the group chanting, “We’re NICE!/As FUCK!/Wish YOU!/Good luck!” It’s a shame, then, that the zeitgeist doesn’t come close to permeating Nice as Fuck on a deeper level, even when considered alongside the low standards associated with a casual, slapdash release. Forster and Thomas provide the perfect percussive counterbalance to Lewis’ warbled alto, but their aversion to dynamic progression and shifting arrangements renders a good chunk of the album inert (“Angel,” “Door,” “Nice as Fuck”).
A successful revolution needn’t be sophisticated or ornate; as Sanders so frequently points out, it’s all about momentum — and while this LP offers an enjoyable assortment of catchy #woke rippers (not to mention an essential, urgent snapshot of the world’s current political absurdity), it fails to feel the Bern on a more substantive level.
Nice As Fuck play Rough Trade on July 31.