Growth: Screaming Toenail – album review

Words by Julie Riley of I Am HER

I first came across Screaming Toenail when they performed for Decolonise Fest at the Poly Styrene expo in Brixton last year at which Big Joanie also played. In that tiny hot room, although I was squashed at the back and it was hard to catch all the lyrics, it was impossible not catch their energy, wit and charisma.

They say that with this album:

“Screaming Toenail celebrates the history and  growth of black, queer, anti-colonial resistance. It’s about growing back bigger and louder whenever you are cut down.It describes a small disregarded part of you that has something important to say.”

It really does.

Some of the testimonials, nay accolades about them cite them as punk and they are that, but they are also more. Punk for me is about attitude not style and they have the right attitude all the way. Also they are a joy to listen to. Jacob has a highly dextrous vocal range that spans from raging punk to sweet sung melodies. The production values are high – there is crystal clear clarity with enough space and dynamism in each layer of each track. The democratic arrangements are perfectly poised to let every part shine. And it’s never boring – super cute BVs on ‘Get Cute’; sound bite layering in  ‘Swarm intro’; bouncing disco synths, gnarly vocals on ‘IOU’; sweet singing on ‘Sever’ and ‘White Saviour’, and anthemic repetition on ‘Giant Woman’ as a long list of awesome women is name checked.

I am in love with Screaming Toenail.

Each song has something to say. ‘Define and Conquer’ is a particular favourite of mine, on topic with the current grades crisis. On topic generally with how much people are evaluated by grades, which is in itself degrading. A perfect example of how lyrically this band are super smart, super sassy, cutting edge, witty and fun. Another is ‘Swarm’ with its relentless, insistent, consistent analogies and word play “I’m a good worker, I’m a good bee”. The emphasis on the WAR in swarm to reflect how migrants/immigrants are regarded (by some) as invaders. “There’s no winner a race for Power”.   I could go on but you are going have to listen to all of them to understand how great and  bloody CLEVER these songs are.

Make no mistake, this is a protest album. We are familiar with protest that causes discomfort in order to affect change. This is protest of another hue. Unflinchingly blunt yet entertaining and accessible. ‘Growth’ lures the enemy into bed whilst holding them to account. The lyrical wit and bouncingly buoyant eclecticism of so many moments makes this album confrontational and compelling in equal measure.

I would not be the first to comment on the album’s remarkable ability to show us that ‘protests can  be funny, sexy and leave you feeling excited about the future.’ It does exactly that.

They cite various influences such as X Ray Spex, ESG, Big Joanie, Le Tigre, TV on the Radio, The Slits, The Specials, Sleater-Kinney, Special Interest, Big Mama Thornton. Elements of all these can be heard but they are extracted, interpreted and represented in unique Screaming Toenail fashion to create a sound that is wholly theirs.

The future is bright. The future is ‘Growth’.


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