Smirk Material LP
When George W. Bush took office in 2001, there was a certain subset of punks that, in a beleaguered search for a silver lining, would say “at least we’ll get some good bands out of this.” Along the same line of thinking, I suppose one could consider that Ronald Reagan was a bigger influence on hardcore than, say, John Lydon. In 2023, the impact of the (ongoing) COVID-19 pandemic on music is just beginning to come into focus. One aspect of this that has become clear is the proliferation of solo recording projects. Case in point: Nick Vicario’s SMIRK. What began as home-recorded “cassettes-de-quarantine” has become a fully realized entity. On the heels of 2021’s utterly fantastic seven-song EP on Total Punk, SMIRK has graced us with a proper full-length album. Material showcases Vicario’s songwriting brilliance on a whole new level. Everything here is so exquisitely dialed-in. The ten songs encompass a broad range of sounds. Flitting from the starkly angular, anxiety-ridden opener “Material World’s Unfair,” to the power-pop-inspired jangle of “Souvenir,” Vicario weaves it all together seamlessly. There are nods along the way to sonic pioneers like WIRE and MAGAZINE, but Material is largely free of anything approaching nostalgia. This is an album very much of its time. I’m not one to jump at a chance to call something classic, and certainly time will tell when it comes to how well pandemic-era projects hold up in the long term, but this record has been burning up many more turntables than my own, and sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. Nick Vicario is an alchemist and SMIRK is pure fucking gold.