It’s too easy to take consistency for granted.
Since playing their first gig in Auntie Annies (lest we forget) in April 2011, No Matter have been proudly flying the flag for unadulterated pop-punk in this country. And they’ve been consistent as well, with one demo, two EP’s and three albums in their back catalogue, alongside a logo which looks like Karl Alvarez designed it to take the piss out of heavy metal. Oh, and the songs have always been top notch, exploring a myriad of emotions and observations with upbeat melodies.
Slogging it out on various tours and supporting big acts have merely refined their craft into something far more succinct and world beating. Coupled with the quality of their releases, and it’s safe to say No Matter are a national treasure. And, judging by the sound on display during 2020’s ‘Me Vs Myself’, it seemed that the next record was going to be special. But, at the same time, nothing is ever assured in life. After all, ploughing the same furrow for a decade can result in stagnation. Plus, the musical landscape of 2022 is very different from that of 2011.
So, it delights me to say that ‘Bad Chemistry’ is not only their best album to date, but it’s also one that should move them further up the ladder, thanks to the polished production (courtesy of Neal Calderwood, who has produced local acts like Pay*Ola, The Dangerfields, The Answer and Maverick). The guitars have power, the drums thump, the melodies cut through and the clarity on the vocals are superb. It sounds like a big-budget modern pop-punk record.
‘Brickwall’ is an odd choice for an opener as its midtempo groove doesn’t immediately get the blood pumping. However, when considered with the lyrics, its clear that the midtempo matches the restrained frustration that comes through in singer/guitarist Dan’s performance. Oddly, the backing vocals on this have a ghostly, ethereal quality to them which balances out the frustration but also lifts the song into anthemic territory.
Opening with a killer, circular sounding bass riff, ‘It’s Boring’ discusses the inherent struggles that come with living in a world where it’s easier to condemn others than understand. The surfy guitar line puts me in mind of a surfer riding a tidal wave and, again, contrasts beautifully with the resignation evident in the lyrics.
It wouldn’t be a No Matter record without at least one song taking down an unnamed hypocrite and ‘In Spite of You’ fulfils that criteria. It’s not surprising that this was the first single, as the bouncy, yet subtly aggressive, riffing is infectious. Also, unlike Dan, singer/bassist Cat’s delivery mixes earnestness with positive defiance.
‘Shitegeist’ (see what they did there) is a two-minute rant about the modern world with Dan delivering lines like “It seems that we’ve forgotten/Our problems are so modern/We can’t remember how to solve them” and delivering a killer solo. Fairly aggressive chugging as well.
Seemingly a duet/battle between Cat and guitarist/singer Jarlath, ‘Hope It’s Hell’ hints that there is something much darker going on, mainly due to the way both of them rush through certain phrases as if either deranged or forcing themselves to adopt a chirpier, positive outlook because they know the ultimate payoff is much crueller than simple murder.
‘Crowd Pleaser’ is an amusing ditty about the monotony of expectations between audience and band, while ‘The Machine Stops’ manages to combine various threads evident on the LP into one song: resignation, defiance and beauty, due to a beautifully jangly opening riff and delivery of apocalyptic lyrics like “But everyone has limits, and one day, when I’ve died/The inscription on my grave will read ‘At least he fucking tried’/I’ll carry on regardless, I’ll carry on in spite…When the sky’s exposed we’ll see just what we’re supposed to be.”
Simply put, this is one of the finest releases of the year and, in terms of NI music, it will be impossible to top. It’s much more than a pop-punk album, it’s an LP urging us to have fun in the face of a collapsing 21st century consensus.
And we all need fun in our lives, don’t we?