Sometimes a piece of music is derivative to the point where the soul is completely sucked out of it. Other times, referential music can reignite the spirit of its forebears while cultivating something all of its own. Lucky for Vancouver quartet Necking, their debut album Cut Your Teeth falls into the latter camp. There’s too much nuanced humanity in this record to write them off as just another punk band.
Their minimal, shouty post-punk and grunge-tinted rock songs would fall flat if they weren’t performed with discernible gusto or infused with as much simmering rage or relatable sulk. Perhaps one of the reasons their emotions are so believable is that three of the four band members went through breakups while writing the album. That said, the four women that make up Necking—singer Hannah Karren, guitarist Nada Hayek, bassist Sonya R and drummer Melissa Kuipers—aren’t just howling about the usual suspects. They do so when necessary, but first and foremost, they embark on a quest to become functioning people or whatever they think qualifies as such. Leaving those who have wronged you in the dust is one thing, but cruising to self-improvement on your own is an entirely separate and equally important path.
Cut Your Teeth is a clash of the powerful and the powerless. On the cutting album opener “Big Mouth,” a man tries to exert power over a relationship by boasting flattering sexual untruths to his friends. “Boss” describes a corporate power dynamic between the narrator and a boss ten years her senior, and an important question is posed: Can we really function as a society when the rich movers and shakers hold the fate of the masses in their hands like a tiny bird? “No Playtime” comes for the throats of gentrifiers, which suck the life out of independent art and music scenes.
When Necking aren’t ferociously fighting for the little guy, they’re left with an ever-underrated clean slate, trying to navigate mundane, day-to-day realities and come out the other side. “Drag Me Out” depicts a restlessness and existential dread we all experience when we’ve been cooped up inside for too long. This is where powerlessness comes to fruition.
While the tides are starting to change, there still aren’t enough punk songs that ask for help and air out one’s own vulnerabilities, but here, Karren needs other people to pull her out of a rut. The record’s snappiest tune “Go Getter” demonstrates how societal and economic factors twist self-improvement into something toxic. No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to check off all the boxes of social, emotional, physical and professional well-being every day, and sometimes the pressures to do so are crushing and counterproductive. The one-minute tune’s sugar-rush pace and spitting vocals mimic the violent nature of these haunting thoughts.
“Still Exist” is a radical acknowledgement of one’s existence during a rough patch. When your world is in the gutter, the bar for accomplishing something productive drops significantly, and admitting that you’re still marching forwards, even if it’s a tortoise-like crawl, is necessary. The inspiring track also captures a particular feeling with freaky accuracy—the one where you feel yourself falling down a dark path, and know you’ll overcome it soon, but that doesn’t make you feel any better in the meantime. “Rover” is where they hit rock bottom, succumbing to the magnetic pull of an unhealthy relationship. The lyrics beat themselves up with the same vigor that’s employed in their sharp, fuming guitars.
On Cut Your Teeth, Karren’s vocals are brimming with a confident danger—she cackles and yells as if she’s at a loud bar with her closest girlfriends, sharing a heartfelt, drunk moment together as they pile on the partners that have done them dirty. Their frenzied rhythms have a sense of urgency, and their twitchy, melodic guitars utter a threatening “Get out of my way” just as much as an overwhelmed “I’m losing my mind!” Cut Your Teeth is a rare fusion of focused anger and unadulterated dejection; Necking are a punk band, but above all else, they’re convincing and relatable.