The first entry in this list begs an important question – and one that's nigh on impossible to answer in any definitive sense: what is noise rock, anyway?
As much an ethos or attitude as anything you can pinpoint musically, noise rock has morphed and evolved over the years, from its roots as a post-punk spin off to decidedly modern experimental dirge. It's forced itself into uncomfortable relationships with unsuspecting genres – hardcore, punk rock, jazz – to unsettle and upend those scenes and, often, spawn new degenerate subgenres all of their own. Noise rock? It's all about the feeling, man.
As a scene which has barely poked its head out from the underground, it figures that many of its best records are still largely undiscovered gems. London-based four-piece USA Nails – who themselves are poised to release a noise-rock classic in the making in the shape of upcoming album Character Stop – are well-placed to shine a light into the scene's overlooked corners, particularly where the UK's untapped underground scene is concerned. Here, they pick 10 essential noise rock records which, if you haven't heard yet, you really should.
The Fall - This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)
Steven Hodson (guitar and vocals): "Are The Fall noise rock? What is noise rock anyway? I always thought we were a pop band. This record is one of their best in my opinion. Bombast completely rips. There will never be another Fall but at least they made a ton of records, each great in their own special way."
Girl Band - The Talkies (2019)
Thomas Brewins (drums): I’m a big fan of all Girl Band releases to date but I’ve chosen their latest, The Talkies, as it incorporates everything I like about them. This album makes my head think I’m watching a horror gore movie but tells my body to dance to disco. I feel as though I’m at a festival in-between the techno tent and the experimental noise tent and the beans just kicked in. Prefab Castle is one of my favoured tracks, building up for two minutes before you hear any rhythm at all. You think it’s just a little soundscape album filler but then turns into a tribalistic rhythmical loop finishing with a techno rave.
Shoulderblades is also a top track. When it drops half way through to that rumbling bass/noise or whatever it is, it’s banging. The album has a real cinematic vibe to it, almost like a twisted psychological thriller score with a drum beat. And thats just fine by me.
Destruction Unit - Deep Trip (2013)
Daniel Holloway (bass): I was listening to Destruction Unit a lot around the start of USA Nails. When we were recording [2016 album] No Pleasure, this was one album that kept popping up for me when talking about what production values we were interested in. I watched them at [London venue] The Shacklewell Arms with [former USA Nails drummer] Matt Reid, we both agreed that it was like standing next to a jumbo jet engine mic-ed up.
Pre - Epic Fits (2007)
Gareth Thomas (guitar): Production on this record is perfect. Wonderfully abrasive and so tasty in those high-mids. Pacing is spot on, nice weird jangly drawn out middle-8s, full on noise-noise and hooks. Sounds like the wheels are about to fall off at any second but of course, they do not. There were a few bands/albums on or around Skin Graft Records at this time I could have picked, but I recently re-discovered this record so it's been at the front of my mind for a few weeks now.
The Men - Leave Home (2011)
Tom: Straight up rock'n'roll rock-noise rock-punk'n'roll. The album is relentless and I hadn’t heard much like it at the time of its release. It's a wall-of-sound incorporating some great riffs and heavy-ass drums and all that good stuff, all seemingly going through one hundred distortion pedals. The mix has been pushed as far as it can go without destroying the musicality of the tunes. I never got the chance to see them perform live but the producer’s done such a job on it that I feel like I did. (), Bataille and Night Landing are my standout tracks, but this is one of those albums that I can play from start to finish and probably just repeat it again. Oh, and it gets me really pumped to go out and get drunk. That’s probably the only negative of the entire album.
Blacklisters – Adult (2015)
Guttersnipe - My Mother The Vent (2018)
Gareth: I saw these at Supernormal Festival one year, and also shared a bill with them doing my solo garb and was completely blown away both times. Irreverent, fluid, deconstructed, visceral, unique, blah blah, I'm terrible at this, etc, etc. Probably best to just give it a listen. Guttersnipe are the kind of act that inspire me to take a step back and re-evaluate how I approach music and sound and creativity and life in general.
Bo Gritz - Tape EP (2018)
Melt Banana - Cell-Scape (2003)
Gareth: A real noise-rock fan would probably cite an earlier album as Cell-Scape is pretty much Melt Banana's Nevermind. It's definitely my favourite of theirs though – the sounds in it are really diverse, really dissonant. It's pretty ludicrous all told, and almost feels like it's parodying itself in places. Annoys all the right people too.
That Fucking Tank - Document Of The First Set (2004)
Steven: I saw this band at one of the Out Of Spite festivals in Leeds and they played this record in full. At the time, I hadn’t seen a two-piece band, playing instrumentals. A couple of years ago, it seemed like every gig we played had a two-piece, but there seemed to be something genuine and fun about Tank. A great band that paved the way for a load of DIY music in the UK.
USA Nails' new album Character Stop is released on October 23 via Hex Records/Bigout Records and is available for pre-order now (opens in new tab)