The Brooklyn, NYC based four piece Hard Nips are brimming with playfulness and attitude. Never assume, however, that because they treat their songs and music with a certain degree of irreverence that their latest album Master Cat appeals to the lowest common denominator. There’s intelligence bristling from each of Master Car’s eight tracks complementing the potent stew of rock and punk the band effortlessly conjures. There’s a sharp pop sensibility cutting through the mix as well. Keyboards are an instrumental wild card throughout these songs and the band’s melodic riffs possess significant mainstream appeal.
The vocals, as well, are ready for prime time. Backing vocals are often heard during the choruses of their songs, but Yoko’s singing carries much of the band’s identity. “Blender X” is our first taste of this for newcomers and discerning first-time listeners to Hard Nips will note the well-tailored diversity she brings to the cut. Saki’s guitar work has an uninhibited spirit without ever descending into a dissonant mish-mash. The manicured chaos she brings with her playing to these songs is essential.
“Master Cat” is a highlight for me. Others will rank the title track high as well for many reasons, but I believe its surehanded fusion of humor, rock muscle, and punk fire is chief among them. Hard Nips aren’t the first band opting to pair keyboards with guitar, many predecessors have done it in countless ways. They are, however, among the few who successfully tie electronic instruments to punk guitar without dulling the latter’s edge.
There’s a polished 80’s rock feel to the track “Alternative Dreamland” I loved after a single listen. Hard Nips’ drummer Hitomi lays down a pattern that never wavers and punctuates the track; here, as elsewhere, you can hear her pairing with Gooch’s bass and Saki’s guitar, particularly the latter, with inspired results. There aren’t any holes in the band’s sound despite their single guitar configuration.
Bass and keyboards begin “Anaconda” with ear-catching flair. The song is built around the rhythm section and keyboards rather than the guitar, but Saki’s presence looms larger as the cut progresses. Yoko’s effervescent vocals, once again, create a sharp contrast with the band’s lean musical attack. “Cupid Devil” brings the final curtain with another reminder of their underrated restraint. Press materials for the band do them a little disservice, in my opinion, painting them as a top shelf party band without mentioning the brains behind this music.
“Cupid Devil” has an ample amount of style and finesse complementing its clenched fist guitar/bass/drums wallop. Much of this comes from playing on the dynamic contrasts built within the arrangement but writing something isn’t enough. Musicians must execute, as well, and Hard Nips makes it sound effortless. Master Cat is lyrically distinctive, musically satisfying, and track-listed with attentiveness and care. There isn’t a single instance of filler among the album’s eight songs; Hard Nips are playing and writing with the same passion for making a musical racket that’s defined their previous releases and continuing to refine their talents.