Known for frenetic blasts of rambunctious, ramshackle post-punk, at once cheeky, witty, and snarling, Billy Nomates is back with a softer edge on her second LP, CACTI. Nomates, the moniker of Leicestershire-born multi-instrumentalist Tor Maries, made her full-length debut with 2020’s self-titled, a bare bones collection built on drum machines and loops, with her playing everything including synths and guitars. The next year, she followed up with the Emergency Telephone EP, which already found her buffing out her self-titled’s rough edges with slicker, more danceable tracks.
Though CACTI retains many of the elements that defined her debut and Emergency Telephone, everything sounds bigger. The compositions are more fleshed out. “Saboteur Forcefield” is airy pop with a romantic new wave glow that could easily balloon into an expansive piano ballad; like “Maps” or any number of singles from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones, “Sabateur Forcefield” is a tender entry in the catalogue of an artist who became known for their caustic side. “Spite” is another similar highlight. It begins as guitar-driven ’90s pop-rock. As it progresses, it’s easy to imagine it exploding into big banging pop glory like a latter day Tegan and Sara radio smash.
CACTI also boasts Nomates’ longest songs yet. More than a few songs pass or near the four- minute mark. “Blackout Signal,” for example, is the album’s longest song, at 4:18. Though CACTI’s 12 songs have immense widescreen high-definition pop potential, they’re perfect the way they are. Besides, their rough edges combined with their danceability is what give them a punk energy, like Peaches’ underground basement jams. Hear especially the moody after-hours basement dance floor shaker “CACTI,” which mixes dramatic pop flair, echoing guitar that looms large, and a swirl of synths.
Despite all these songs, none is a more refreshing change for Nomates than the weary, mostly acoustic “Fawner.” It demonstrates her range, as does the lurching, dusty “Roundabout Sadness,” which sounds like a demo; somehow, this track doesn’t disrupt the album’s flow. And speaking of dynamism, the back-to-back “Same Gun” and “Vertigo,” two of the album’s busiest, most crowded songs, is a late album combo that knocks things a bit off-kilter like the Talking Heads.
For the most part, the music on CACTI sounds uplifting. But a closer listen to the lyrics reveals a less jubilent mood. Sure, there are flashes of optimism and constructive reflection, but they’re born out of anxiety. Much of Nomates’ snark and sneer take a backseat to soberer reflections. Her frantic energy is gone or at the very least channeled more wearily. Even though “Balance Is Gone” comes with a gleaming knife-edged sheen and background vocals (provided by herself) that give the song a rough danceability, like early Metric, she sings of feeling like she’s in the the wrong place at the wrong time, stuck in place spinning her wheels while the world moves on without her.
“Saboteur Forcefield” is a serious moment. “I had such a terrible evening / Why we gotta joke about absolutely everything? / I know that nothing’s quite right / It’s just your instinct to fight.” And more bluntly, on the dark, glistening “Blue Bones (Deathwish),” she repeats, “Death don’t turn me on like it used to.” On “Spite,” she charges, “I know you think you hold all your power over me, but you don’t / Only I hold power over me / Even then, I don’t stick to everything I say.” It’s a declarative statement that reclaims agency but also acknowledges the malleability of her willpower. Despite all Nomates’ unease and despair, though, “I’ve always known I’d meet you at the end,” she sings on “Blackout Signal,” certain that through all the trying times, she’ll pull through.
CACTI’s 12 tracks show Billy Nomates has the skill to take her music in so many directions. The future is wide open and exciting for her, even if she feels trapped or stuck sometimes. And she can be sure, like the person she sings to on “Blackout Signal,” there’ll be fans waiting for her with eager ears.
Pre-order CACTI by Billy Nomates HERE
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