On Strategically Placed Bananas, Nathan Joyner and Alia Jyawook only partially embrace the half-serious dance punk anti-aesthetic that marked earlier efforts. Now a trio, Hot Nerds have built up their wheelhouse to include more brutal, tightly wound bursts of digital skronk made whole by raw, close-mic’d drums—courtesy of third Nerd Thomas O’Connell— but as always marked by Joyner’s decimated guitar tones and Jyawook’s wide-open fuzzy synths.
The album begins with the sonic bukkake of “Room One Flatulator.” Jyawook’s woolen synth tones are featured prominently in the mix; her figures oscillate menacingly just beneath Joyner’s Arab on Radar-esque riffing and O’Connell’s grind-inclined snare work. The lyrics reveal a band not ashamed to dish out the hate to others in their ecosystem, and Joyner’s vocals (lightly processed compared to the searing pitch shifts on other songs) conjure up a young Thurston Moore at his most self-consciously snotty. He snarls, “Turds that swim / have shit-eating grins / Washed up prog / by amateur hogs.”
The new tracks aren’t all swagger and confrontation. The song “Noize” bears some of the group’s earlier DNA, when Joyner and Jyawook banged out pure fun on a dumpster-dived drum kit and a slick keyboard bought with a line of Guitar Mart credit. Propelled to new heights by O’Connell’s percussive attack, the song’s key refrain (“I don’t wanna go”) is a weird paean to more nihilistic and more self-destructive times, before Joyner, who was nearly killed in 2012 after being struck by a car, had to be put back together again by all the king’s horses and men.
Some tracks split the difference between this shake-your-ass hookiness and avant-garde hostility. The A riff on “EmotiKanye” is pure danceability, with Jyawook’s sawtooth bassline squarely in the pocket—imagine the Funk Brothers cruising for pills and drank in the Cat’s Eye Nebula. The chorus, though, turns that beat around on a dense, splattery, Locust-like tag, with O’Connell’s and Jyawook’s urgent groove on the B riff underpinning cascades of ring-modulated guitar. Lyrically, the song explores the masturbatory self-surveillance of the online social-media complex. The theme seems heavy, sure, but Joyner’s couplets remind us that he is a jester at heart: ‘Billy knows where Kelly goes / tagged the cocaine in her nose.”
With Strategically Placed Bananas, Hot Nerds aren’t too cool to draw water from the well of the dance-punk trend of the mid-2000s—but they’re also more than happy to leave a massive turd in that same well.
– John Rieder
1. Room One Flatulator
3. Cardiac House Arrest
4. Stuffed Party Animals
5. The Brubeck Counting Institute
7. Freak Da Geek
8. Shock Value On The Rocks
9. 7 Day Blast
10. Legs Over Easy