New sound is more than rebranding
If your last encounter with Kate Nash was 2007's ubiquitous hit Foundations, you'd be forgiven for finding her unrecognisable in the video for Under-Estimate The Girl, released this week.
The song starts with distorted sub-bass, the creaking squeals of a guitar on the verge of feedback and a lethargic, washed-out vocal line. A minute in, the vocals turn to raspy screams, at which point it's grunge meets girl-group harmonies atop surf rock beats.
This new direction might be difficult to imagine – listen back-to-back with Foundations and you'd be hard pressed to find even a trace of something that would suggest it was the same person – but consider that she was inspired by Quentin Tarantino when making this latest album and it becomes a little easier to digest. It's not too hard to imagine this might be Nash's take on the scene from Kill Bill where The 126.96.36.199's perform I'm Blue moments before Uma Thurman kills the Crazy 88.
If you stuck around for 2010's My Best Friend Is You, you might have acknowledged the suggestions of the darker and dirtier to come; songs like Mansions, which opens with curse-heavy spoken word and progresses into a distorted tribal beat, or I Just Love You More, which sees Nash having just graduated from the Karen O school of climax-a-like screaming.
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Most of the album still features the jaunty violin jabs, handclaps and foot-tapping indie pop of the likes of Patrick Wolf and Los Campesinos! though, and is far closer to her debut Made of Bricks than what we're led to believe is the Kate Nash of 2012.
As a founding director of the FAC (Featured Artists' Coalition, who aim to promote transparency in the music industry and to help artists control their work), Nash launched Kate Nash's Rock 'n' Roll for Girls After-School Music Club in 2010. The "club" consisted of Nash spending almost a year in six schools, teaching female students sound engineering and how to play instruments, and giving advice about working for record labels.
Considering the reaction to her newest single on the supposedly forward-thinking reviews/music discussion site Drowned in Sound – which seemed to hold her weight and attractiveness as more important indicators of her relevance than the music itself – it's no surprise Nash has not only spoken out against but acted upon the inequality she's experienced in music.
It's easy to be cynical when someone who is ostensibly a pop star takes a step backwards in terms of accessibility. But whether this is the "real" Nash, using previous success to give exposure to less commercial styles, a one-off experiment to be forgotten when the album comes out, an insincere rebranding attempt, or something else entirely, the intent is mostly irrelevant. What is relevant is that people are directly benefiting from Nash's involvement in music – as her students, or as observers of a mainstream personality engaging in what are normally underground pursuits.
Then, of course, there are those who gain from her music for both its entertainment and emotional merits which – for both their intrinsic values and the fact that just being a female musician in Nash's position can, incidentally, provide a feminist role model for young people – should not to be overlooked as inspirational. And, if Nash is anything, she's interesting.
Anyone who can legitimately draw comparisons as different as Hole, Lily Allen, Billy Bragg, The Ting Tings, Best Coast and Tarantino, in a career that spans just five years, is someone worth watching, and the only thing we'll bet on during this ten-date tour is being surprised by the material.
Kate Nash The Thekla, Monday, June 25. See listings for details.