Amyl and The Sniffers.
2019, Rough Trade Records. Producer: Ross Orton.
In My Collection: Spotify, 2020.
(Five Minute Read)
IN A NUTSHELL: Amyl and The Sniffers is a loud, fast, short record that offers old-school sounds and throwback themes. These Aussies could’ve been plucked right out of 1977 London. Vocalist Amy Taylor is more of a rhythmic shouter than a singer, but it fits perfectly on top of guitarist Dec Martens’ riffs and crunch. It goes by quickly, but it leaves you happy, and ready to kick the whole world’s ass.
THEORETICAL PLACE IN A FUTURE TOP 100 LIST I’LL NEVER WRITE: Top 80.
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The very first song that Billboard magazine deemed Number 1 in the USA was “I’ll Never Smile Again,” by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. The song featured a young Frank Sinatra crooning, “I’ll never smile again/ Until I smile at you/ I’ll never laugh again/ What good would it do.” It’s syrupy and wispy, with tinkling bells and a chorus of characterless voices backing up Ol’ Blue Eyes. It was huge, holding down the #1 spot for three months in the summer of 1940. So, when I graduated high school, any peers who didn’t like the contemporary 80s sounds, but instead had a thing for 45-year-old music, might’ve been jamming to this bop.
But let me tell you something about 80s teens: we may have been lame, but we weren’t that lame. Nobody was listening to that crap1. However, I was in the marching band, so I knew many musicians who did listen to, and enjoy, and PLAY 45-year-old music. They liked jazz music by artists like Louie Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. This was music that was far afield from the the pop2 hits of the day. Songs like “I’ll Never Smile Again,” or Bing Crosby’s “Only Forever,” which bumped Dorsey off the top spot and held it for over two months, sound primped and frail next to those other muscular, sweaty jazz sounds. The top of the pop chart, generally, has never been where the interesting music is found.
In 1974, Billboard‘s Number One song of the year was “The Way We Were,” by Barbra Streisand. In 1975, it was “Love Will Keep Us Together,” by The Captain and Tennille. Wings held the spot in 1976 with “Silly Love Songs.” However, far beyond the pop charts in the early to mid-70s, something more dangerous was bubbling under. The Stooges, The New York Dolls, and The Ramones were putting out records in the US, and in the UK, The Sex Pistols and The Clash were doing damage. Modern musicians are more likely turn to these acts when pilfering 45-year-old styles than any of the watery, safe sounds from the era’s Top Ten. I offer to you the following evidence: Amyl and The Sniffers.
Amyl and The Sniffers are a mulletted Australian band featuring three men with a woman singer who reminds me of the trailer park girls I knew in high school who I was afraid would kick my ass. They play loud, fast, catchy songs with vocals that are more shouted than sung, equal parts fury and fun blasting straight out of the speakers.
I first heard them over the summer of 2020, in the early part of the Great Lonesome. Spotify randomly played them, and I was hooked on their bouncy, aggressive clamor. The band is named after the street drug amyl nitrate, or “poppers.” Singer/shouter Amy Taylor told the BBC, “In Australia we call poppers Amyl. So you sniff it, it lasts for 30 seconds and then you have a headache – and that’s what we’re like!”
I haven’t done poppers, but I can’t disagree with her assessment of the band – although I like the ensuing headaches. Loud, fast punk rock is fine with me, but I do need some melody and something to interest me beyond speed and volume. Amyl and The Sniffers are melodic and interesting. I also like a variety of sounds and styles, and while they don’t mix up the style much, at least the songs are all about 2 minutes long so it doesn’t get old.
Apart from Taylor’s shouting (which I’ll get to), the most interesting thing about the band is guitarist Dec Martens, who gets to show off his skills right off the bat on “Starfire 500.”
About 0:53, Martens plays a solo that’s bouncy and catchy, and perhaps unusual in a punk song. The band plays through a verse and chorus before Taylor finally joins in about 1:48. She speak-sings lyrics about an attractive sex worker, and her style is somewhere between Corin Tucker, of Sleater-Kinney, and Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. She kind of sings the chorus (2:11) on this song, and Martens gets to play some cool licks about 2:30, and the boys all shout along to the chorus in their Aussie accent. It’s a good song to introduce the band.
In the true spirit of punk, they have songs about life stressors aggravated by the inherent inequities of modern socio-economic systems. Or, more succinctly, being “Gacked on Anger.”
The lyrics are great, and the clicking, crunching guitar is great. This one really is a “30 seconds and a headache” type song. The same can be said for “Cup of Destiny,” in which Taylor breaks out the signature grunt (0:23) – sometimes a squeal – she uses for emphasis. The song’s an update on the grim 70s UK “no future” sentiments. Martens gets to wedge in a brief squawky solo at 1:35. The energy is ramped up even more for “GFY,” propelled by Fergus Romer’s distorted bass guitar. It’s a song about dealing with douchebag people, with the chorus “… go fuck yourself.” Punk rock has no use for subtlety. (Here’s a cool live clip of the song.)
Amyl and The Sniffers have more to them than snotty rage and stomping beat. They have a bit of 70s hard rock and glam in them. For example, “Angel.”
It’s melodic in spite of Taylor’s style, and allows Martens to do more than a Johnny Ramone impression. His riff makes this one of my favorites on the record, and Drummer Bryce Wilson adds nice fills, too. Lyrically, it’s an unrequited love song, although Taylor doesn’t exactly try to sell the emotion of the song. She’s more comfortable yelling about the joys of playing a show in the rain, as in “Monsoon Rock.”
The band speeds up The Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun” riff, and basically runs wild with it. Martens plays a buzzing mosquito solo at 1:35 (after another of Taylor’s grunts), and the band just has the most fun possible in under two minutes. (Another kick ass live clip here.) It’s another favorite of mine. “Control” is a driving, X-ish rave-up about being in charge, and it ends with plenty of grunts and squeals. “Got You,” is a love song, actually, and has a fun, shouty chorus from the band, but gets a bit repetitive.
The track “Punisha” is flat-out speed and power, and drummer Wilson gets quite a workout. His fills are sweet. The song’s about vengeance, I think. “Shake Ya” is a good, old-fashioned, straightforward rock song about fucking that sounds like a pretty direct response to “You Shook Me All Night Long” from fellow Aussies AC/DC.
I really love the entirety of Amyl and The Sniffers, its energy and power, but the album closer is my favorite: “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled).”
The opening guitar riff is an immediate classic, rising menacingly. Romer’s bass ramps things up, and drummer Wilson crashes in (0:28) and then it’s just a head-banging frenzy! The band pulls back a bit for some more Martens riffage, then plows ahead, Taylor asking the musical question, “You got a new dog/ Do you remember me?” It’s a scorching scorned-woman song with few words (two of which are “Woof! Woof!”) and lots of attitude. Martens lets loose a bunch of punk/hard rock crunch. Check out one more live clip.
There you have it: eleven songs, twenty-nine minutes. A perfect punk morsel. Amyl and The Sniffers are making my old(er)-man heart happy. The musical future is in good hands with terrific throwbacks like this.