Negative Scanner

Nose Picker

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In the three years between Negative Scanner's self-titled debut album and 2018's Nose Picker, their sound only became more relevant, with bands like Priests and Shopping raising the profile of fiery, female-fronted punk. Negative Scanner spent that time becoming a more confident band, and a funnier one, too. Where many acts reflected the darkening mood of the late 2010s in their music, they resist it with a brighter, tighter sound and a devil-may-care attitude (on the surface, anyway; when Rebecca Valeriano-Flores wails "Now we're laughing til we're crying" on "A Vision," it's closer to the truth). Both brattier and more purposeful, much of the band's newfound oomph comes from Valeriano-Flores' commanding presence. She still sounds like the lovechild of Siouxsie Sioux and Jello Biafra, but there are also shades of Karen O and Poly Styrene when she sings "you're a piece of work!" on "T.V.," a combination put-down and come-on with plenty of snarling snark on the side. The band telegraphs the irreverence of Nose Picker's title on each of its songs -- these dispatches are written in blood, spit, snot, and other bodily fluids, and it's no coincidence that the closing track "Health Insurance" ends with a flushing toilet. Many of Negative Scanner's targets are the same as they were during punk's first go-round: On "The Only One," they take on privilege and wrap the dogged, jagged riffs of Pink Flag-era Wire in sandpaper; they call out global and local hypocrisy on "10 Million Kids" and "Let it Die"; and Valeriano-Flores rails against racism with poignant fury on "6 Ft. Hole." Here and throughout Nose Picker, the band put layers in their lyrics even as their music steamrolls over everything in its path. Valeriano-Flores sounds strangely triumphant as she intones "Can't take anything back" on "Shoplifter" and shifts from poetic ("you deserve the contempt that wolves have for dogs") to blunt ("this is shit you eat") in an instant on "First Blood." Even on relatively slow songs like the post-punk ballad "A Cross," Negative Scanner feels unstoppable on Nose Picker -- and as the album rushes by in a vitriolic burst, the band take several steps forward in the process.

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