One of the Nova Twins’ most vocal celebrity supporters, guitarist Tom Morello, has a story he regularly tells about the peculiar phenomenon of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fans who simply refuse to believe that he’s Black, even after he repeatedly tells them that his father is Kenyan. “I think it disrupts the false narrative that music like mine can only be made by people who look like them,” he said to the Guardian last year.
It’s a subject addressed, more forcefully, in the opening two tracks of the Nova Twins’ second album. “Look me in the face – say you’ve never met someone like me,” growls Antagonist. “You can buy your looks, but you can’t change your genes – I’m a straight talker, fucking say what you mean,” snaps Cleopatra, which announces the duo as “blacker than the leather that’s holding our boots together”.
From the tone of those songs, you get the impression that not everyone is delighted by Nova Twins’ rise. Their debut album, Who Are the Girls?, was released three weeks before the first UK lockdown, which should have spelled disaster, but, by the end of 2020, they were picking up awards and lobbying the Mobos to include a rock/alternative category. Its follow-up has been heralded by cover features in the kind of specialist rock magazines that very seldom put women of colour on their cover.
If, as Antagonist and Cleopatra suggest, there are people out there carping that this all smacks of special pleading and deploying the phrase “woke agenda” in the process, their second album does an exceptionally good job of demolishing their argument. Nova Twins’ success has come accompanied by a lot of talk about smashing glass ceilings and changing perceptions, but, on purely musical terms, Supernova would be a hugely exciting album regardless of who made it. Its songs come in fizzing three-minute bursts. In their letter to the Mobos, Amy Love and Georgia South described themselves as “two mixed race girls who shout through distorted mics and play gnarly bass riffs”, which is snappy, but drastically undersells the sharpness and concision of their songwriting and how kaleidoscopic their sound actually is.
At heart, the music on Supernova exists in the centre of the punk/metal/hard rock Venn diagram. You can hear the duo’s love of nu-metal: on A Dark Place for Somewhere Beautiful, vocals shift from menacing purr to an impressive rap flow to raw-throated intensity. There’s a distinct echo of Morello’s effects-laden inventiveness in Amy Love’s guitar playing, and a whisper of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir about the strings on Enemy. But across its 12 tracks you also catch glimpses of the Prodigy’s rave-punk hybrid, EDM’s fizzing electronic tones, the horrorcore hip-hop of Gravediggaz and Three 6 Mafia, the Bomb Squad’s teeming, edge-of-chaos production style, house music – there’s a distinct dancefloor pulse audible on Toolbox and Choose Your Fighter – and R&B: KMB features what sounds like a deliberate nod towards the staccato melodies of Destiny’s Child circa Jumpin’ Jumpin’.
Better yet, this array of influences never feels forced or crowbarred together. It’s blended into a completely coherent and authentically powerful style anchored by South’s bass, always dense with distortion, continually switching between grungy riffing and swooping and arcing around Love’s guitar in a way that recalls the bottom end of a dubstep track.
The lyrics, meanwhile, are really good, swaggering in time-honoured hip-hop style, excoriating racism and sexism with genuine wit: “Your girlfriend moshes to our shows,” snaps Enemy, adding, “she’s only cheating because it’s getting stale at home.” In fact, the lyrics are genuinely funny throughout. KMB deals with enacting murderous fantasies on an unfortunate boyfriend with a glee that recalls the horror-comic Ramones of Chainsaw or Teenage Lobotomy: “I think I’ll sit here and watch his blood dry … he’s a little brain dead so he can’t comply.” If you wanted to, you could trace the roots of Puzzles’ verses back at least a hundred years, to Mississippi John Hurt’s Candy Man Blues. But unlike the protagonist of that song, whose “big candy stick” was apparently nine inches long and overwhelmingly magnetic to the ladies, any prospective candy men who hove into the Nova Twins’ view are advised that their allure comes with terms and conditions attached – general: “When I say jump, you say when” and more specific: “He only gets a call-back if he’s good at giving head.”
It waits until its closing track to dial the aggression down a touch, although Sleep Paralysis sounds like the work of people torn between showing off their pop skills and making a scourging racket, and deciding to do both at once. The chorus is disrupted by a noise that could have come from the more nerve-jangling end of left-field electronica, a last aural middle-finger on an album that’s inventive, angry, witty, original and pretty irresistible. Supernova is a riot of its own.
This week Alexis listened to
Lynks – Perfect Human Specimen
This “Masked drag monster” – their phrase – provides sharp beats, smart lyrics, instant sunshine.