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Tyvek - Nothing Fits

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Artist: Tyvek

Album: Nothing Fits

Label: In the Red

Review date: Nov. 8, 2010

I always thought “Frustration Rock” was a great name for a song, and one that did a great job of circumscribing Tyvek’s sound. The haphazard singles collected on Fast Metabolism, then updated for last year’s self-titled album on Siltbreeze, were the products of two major Detroit narratives presented in equal parts. The first referenced the storied rock city of Bill Haley, The Stooges, MC5, and even The White Stripes, an obvious and probably inescapable move. But the second called up the desertion and depression that pushes out through the city limits like dark matter; today’s sensationalist news reports of Detroit Dead City. “Frustration Rock” economically cherry-picked the best bits and riffs of a 60-year-old tradition and infused it with contemporary anxieties to bring a more authentic down-and-outness sound to the slacker aesthetic that The Strokes had reinvigorated before the bubble burst.

For Nothing Fits, however, it’s important to remember another bunch of hometown heroes: Negative Approach. Because it’s in Midwest hardcore territory that Tyvek picks up this time around.

This actually makes some sense. Thirty years ago, Detroit was dying, Republicans were sweeping back into D.C., angry teenagers were just learning from their friends in California how to rage against the machine. Today, scarily, the socio-economic incitement that gave rise to this particularly desperate hardcore scene remains the same. The emotional core of the music, however, is somewhat different. In 1980, the decay was fresh and so was the outburst of violent indignation. But now that it’s 2010, the fact that things have, at best, not gotten any better — there’s even another Robocop in production — just leads to bewilderment. This is real frustration rock.

Tyvek’s move in this particular direction caught me off guard, but it’s not completely out of character. Songs like “Stand and Fight” showed they were always punks at heart. And “Kid Tut” and “Outer Limits” are more similar to those old Tyvek songs than, say, “Nothing.” Except this time around, the puckish pop mayhem that kept things light in the past has been traded in for much heavier threats. “Underwater To” is the only straight up pop hit — and what a hit it is — whose chorus, ironically enough, most lucidly captures the general attitude of this album: “It’s alright / Just do what you want / Yeah, do what you feel.”

The rest of the songs engage in a manic push-and-pull between exasperation and escapism. This makes for a fun guessing game, because you never really know which will win out until the song’s mostly through. “Blocks,” for example, clocks in with what seems like your standard three-chord nihilism, reiterating once again “I don’t fucking care / Do what you feel.” Instead of stopping at the prescribed 90-second mark, however, it keeps going, migrating from the My War A-side camp to B-side assault weapon. Yes, there’s a lot of reason to be fed up, which is why it’s so important that the song drags on interminably (for another minute and a half that is): there’s catharsis, refuge, and therapy wrapped up in here.

Alternately, songs imagining a rosier, more domestic life tend to collapse in on themselves. Fast. “Potatoes” has the makings of a pretty nice garden-to-table dinner date, but the fantasy can’t really hold up to the minor-chord fugue and the desperate desires for a normal relationship. Then there’s the wholesale nervous breakdown on “This One or That One,” where the neuroses of consumerism sublimates in the same absurdity of choice as Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell” (strange comparison, true, but there’s something to it). Even the ultimate American escape, the drive, is exposed for what it is in “Pricks in a Car.” Whereas “Blocks” refused to end, these songs, with their more established structures and dreams, cannot hold the center.

Kevin Boyer said Tyvek’s last album was “inspired” by the mortgage meltdown that scuttled the American economy. That’s fairly obvious. So what precipitated such a change between then and now? Not much, really, and that may be the point that they’re trying to make. It’s a populist outrage here, one that we’ve heard before. But the nuanced defeatism on Nothing Fits separates these brash, loud punk anti-anthems from the standard hardcore fare. The most ephemeral evidence of this is also the most effective: instead of battering you into submission with unadulterated force, songs are separated with just enough silence to make you uncomfortable, impatient. The subtle natures of hell are often the worst.

By Evan Hanlon

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