February 26, 2016 | by Bryne Yancey

If there’s one thing rock critics truly love in this world, it’s awarding important-sounding, yet ultimately make-believe platitudes to records they adore.

(If there’s another thing they love, it’s free things. If it’s another thing they love, it’s the sound of their own voices carrying through increasingly empty virtual hallways, an echo increasingly fading in the distance; “this is the best album of the year, of the year, of the year…”) I write this way about these people as if I am not one of them. Apologies in advance. But The Dirty Nil’s Higher Power is the best rock record of 2016.

What’s that? It’s only February 26? Right. The Dirty Nil’s Higher Power is the best rock record of 2016 so far, while more of an accurate, logic-based opinion, just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Logic tends to be thrown out the window when one’s ears are being pummeled by monstrous riff after monstrous riff. It’s funny how something as inherently, viscerally simple as a riff can drive even the most studious of listeners to frantically draw heart eyes all over their notebooks. The love of the riff is so deep and enduring. It is what fuels us. It would appear to fuel this band as well.

The Dirty Nil, much to their credit and to our benefit, are unconcerned with punk posturing. In fact, they’re admittedly not much of a punk band at all, which of course, paradoxically makes them even more punk. Weird how that works; people try so hard at looking like they’re not trying at all, and while it works sometimes, the feeling is often, and unsurprisingly, hollow.

“Hollow” is a word no one would use to describe Higher Power, however; this thing is bursting at the seams with, well, power. The wall of feedback that opens “No Weaknesses” and the record ought to be a strong indicator of that, but then the song starts in earnest, heavy, dense, swirling and maybe it’s not the most original thing in the world, but goddamn if it isn’t a near-perfect execution of a mostly dormant style of rock ‘n roll, the kind of rock ‘n roll that triggers reverberations throughout your body and renders every lighthearted, electronic dance beat on alternative rock radio to a heaping pile of dust. Then “Zombie Eyed” starts, and it’s also so heavy and dense and swirling but the chorus is so catchy, the vocal melodies so on point that your body doesn’t know whether to dance or headbang. Doing both at the same time seems dangerous, but why the hell not, right? You hear that syrupy, distorted bassline from Dave Nardi through “Lowlives”—no, fuck that, you feel it—and it makes your head hurt. Then “Friends In The Sky” starts and you begin to notice that Luke Bentham is using screeching feedback as a goddamn bridge into the most driving, anthemic riffs on the whole record. You notice those couple of extra flashes drummer Kyle Fisher adds into “Know Your Rodent” and it’s like, wait what the fuck? How did he even have time to squeeze that in?

At that point, Higher Power becomes more than just a really loud rock record; it morphs into a transcendent testament of what guitar-driven rock ‘n roll, a genre long ago mostly stripped of its urgency, of its ability to accomplish little beyond soundtrack mixed martial arts highlights videos, can accomplish when it’s being fired on all cylinders. Time will tell if The Dirty Nil can deliver us from evil—or in this case, from Foo Fighters—but Higher Power is one hell of a mission statement.

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