Having blown us away with the impassioned magnificence of their live show at The Finsbury last December, and with performances for the likes of Decolonise Festival and Afropunk Battle Of The Bands under their belts, anti-colonial queer punks Screaming Toenail have become firm favourites here at GIHE and their message is more resonant now than ever before. With singles such as ‘I.O.U’ and ‘Sever’ already out in the world, they have now shared their new album Growth.
Opening with a jarring recording of reports of trafficking migrants and “swarms” of refugees coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, the album starts as it means to go on: honest, politically charged and utterly necessary. As the swirling, whirring soundscape of ‘Swarm’ builds the tension against the raw, impassioned drive of front person Jacob Joyce’s vocals and poignant lyricism, Screaming Toenail hold no punches in immediately deconstructing ideas of colonialism and empire.
Continuing these themes, ‘White Saviour’ is a glaring commentary on the way in which white supremacy and institutionalised racism can so often be overlooked in society, particularly when assigning the roles of ‘celebrity’ or people that are revered within our communities. With a tongue-in-cheek sense of pride, Joyce denounces individualistic colonial mentalities with a distinctive seething energy.
With shades of ‘80s post-punk, ‘Define and Conquer’ speaks for itself; with striking imagery and an angst-driven drive, Joyce reflects on the damage of Britain’s “conquest and expedition”, whilst ‘I.O.U’ asserts with a fierce intensity that we are so much more than our wages and that we don’t owe our bosses, landlords, or this racist government, anything. Propelled by an impassioned cathartic rage and swirling magnetism, its raw, riotous power immerses the listener in its striking, empowering message.
Propelled by a dark, visceral drive, ‘Sever’ envelops the ears with a stirring resonance. With shades of the anthemic, emotive energy of The Cure, it showcases Screaming Toenail’s ability to create truly compelling offerings with exquisite musicality. Of the meaning behind the track, the band explain:
“‘Sever’ is written in response to the never ending saga of getting your hair cut as a gender non conforming person. Or is it our response to the displacement so many of us feel as black and brown people in the diaspora? Or maybe building queer community and resisting shame...”
With an empowering energy, ‘Crystal Queer’ celebrates the growth of black, queer resistance with a racing force and uplifting, vibrant power. With its colourful spirit, it’ll leave you feeling hopeful – fists clenched – ready to come together and rise up against the forces seeking to oppress.
Continuing the uplifting vibes, and with a beautifully witty lyricism, ‘Get Cute’ is guaranteed to make you smile. With spot on ‘cute’ imagery (including personal highlight “You’re like a little old lady shoplifting from Boots”), it’s the perfect invigorating and cheer-inducing anthem to sing along to, know that you’re worth it and soothe any insecurities you may be feeling. And anyone who was at our gig at The Finsbury in December will have glorious memories of Screaming Toenail performing this live, and the comforting sense of unity and cathartic joy that filled the venue, as like-minded people came together to dance and sing in solidarity.
‘Giant Woman’ closes the collection with all the empowering, patriarchy-smashing energy you’d expect; naming a number of visionary “giant’ women such as Diane Abbott and Reni Eddo-Lodge, it encourages you to take inspiration from others, as well as yourself, when facing the world and overcoming its challenges. A perfect motivational end to Growth’s stirring call to arms.
Despite my focus on the album’s words, it’s not simply Growth’s subject matter that demands to be heard: it showcases the eclectic and innovative musicality of the band. From immense, reverb-strewn riffs and racing punk beats, to fizzing electro-driven soundscapes and a swirling dark mysticism, it provides a perfectly danceable soundtrack to its resonant content.
As a sort of ‘P.S’, I just wanted to add that I really have struggled to put into words just how completely important and strikingly poignant Screaming Toenail are, and I think really the album needs no explanation. You need to listen to the lyrics, the commentary on what is happening in this country right now, the raw angst and emotion that shines through every track, the magnificent cathartic energy that the band put into everything they create, to understand. I was, in fact, almost reluctant to write about it, as I don’t want any of my words to take away from the raw and necessary power of the band’s.
Growth is truly a soundtrack to our times; starkly reminding us that on returning to ‘normality’, we need to create a new normal. One in which voices like Screaming Toenail’s can be amplified to the max; one in which we prioritise creating safe, queer, intersectional communities and spaces for people to share their art together. One in which we are all continually fighting for change and feel able to grow bigger and louder in the face of challenges, and feel excited for the future.
Growth is out now via Hell Hath No Fury Records. Buy it on Bandcamp.