Dream Nails Captures Their Feminist Activism in a Blistering Pop-Punk Debut

Dream Nails Captures Their Feminist Activism in a Blistering Pop-Punk Debut

Dream Nails’ self-titled debut album is a pop punk party full of lyrics showing their unapologetic activism.

Say you love the sound of pop punk, the hammering power chords and unbound joy that fuels it, but you find the lyrics often too slight. You want a call to action, a denunciation of bigotry and misogyny. If that’s what you’re looking for, Dream Nails is the band for you.

Dream Nails is a four piece punk band from London. Originally formed by vocalist Janey Starling and guitarist Anya Pearson, and later joined by drummer Lucy Katz and bassist Mimi Jasson, they took their love of pop punk sounds and combined it with their feminist activism. The self dubbed “Queer Feminist Punk Witches” have been around since 2015, but their debut album Dream Nails just dropped August 28th. According to their fans, their live shows are outstanding, and they often share proceeds with the Abortion Support Network. They’re both passionate activists and great musicians.

There’s plenty of pop punk energy to love on this album. The songs are driving and spirited, carried by Jasson’s crackling bass lines and Katz’s dynamic drumming. Pearson lets the distortion reign, but also infuses her licks with a clean, sparkling sound when she’s showing off her skills. Top it off with Starling’s vocals, sometimes husky and restrained, sometimes a frenzied scream, and you have a killer sound. Their lyrics can be playful and cutting, simple fun, or serious calls to action, but they’re always excellent. Their debut shows a band that knows exactly what they want to play and what they want to say, and you can’t help but listen and move along.

The album opens with a brief clip titled “Affirmations.” In a call and response, members of the band say the mantra “I am ready. I fear no one and nothing except the temptation to hold back.” Some random plucking and suppressed laughs can be heard in the background. It’s the first taste of the band’s sense of humor.

The opening track, titled “Jillian,” opens with bass and vocals and cuts loose when the drums and guitar kick in. An ode to fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, the song barrels along with happy pop punk energy. The guitar interludes in the track have a great surf rock sound, and the backing vocal cries of “Jillian! Jillian!” add plenty of sonic texture. It’s a happy, bubbly song with a great sense of humor, evident in the line “Some say you’re not a qualified personal trainer/I don’t care I’m not a complainer.”

Another call and response clip of “Do you want to go to work? NO! Are you going to go to work? YES!” feels all too relatable, before the next track “Corporate Realness” charges in. Power chords and office jargon full of tension build up to a screaming chorus: “You are not your job. Work is not your life/You are not what you must do in order to survive!” Starling fills the chorus with such venom, yet it feels so reassuring. The song is full of so much energy, it’s hard not to move wherever you are. As soon as you hear Dream Nails, you know immediately that their live shows must be insane in the best way possible.

“Text Me Back (Chirpse Degree Burns)” takes a relatable situation, turns it to 11, and blasts off into a frantic punk world. “Text me back” is called out, screamed, and repeated throughout the song, along with the great refrain, “Reply to me/Acknowledge me/Validate me/Or just date me!” Jasson’s bass lines keep the pace driving and grooving, while Pearson fills little moments with great mini guitar solos, short but powerful. The line towards the end “Don’t make me double text you” feels legitimately menacing. The whole song feels panicked with energy and it works brilliantly.

Before the next song, there’s a clip from a live show with the call for “Women and non-binary people to the front,” followed by a qualification for the next song. The band expresses their support for the trans community and reproductive justice, and asserts “Not all fucking women have vaginas.”  Dream Nails is absolutely clear about the causes that they’re passionate about and they want everyone to know.

The next track is a blistering attack on politicians who control people’s bodies . “Vagina Police 2.0” opens all out with raging guitar. It’s fast and loud, and the vocals crash in: “Your body is not your own/You have no autonomy/Your body is not your own/You are public property.” For the verses the song shifts to a low burn with rumbling bass and guitar. The vocals tear into those who feel the need to control women’s bodies and their obsession with knowing “What goes in/What comes out/What it looks like/Whether you have one.” It’s a masterful combination of a blazing, riotous punk song and bitingly satirical lyrics. 

“DIY” is a good representation of Dream Nails as a whole. The lyrics are a list of all the things you can do yourself, and it’s a long list. Fixing a bike, starting a punk band, orgasms, haircuts, healing broken hearts, the list goes on and on. The track rolls along with the guitar and bass doing call and response with some killer little riffs. It’s a song about self empowerment, and not listening to the people trying to tear you down. The song slows down for a loud, kick drum punctuated ending while Starling calls out “Do it yourself!”

“People are Like Cities” is a strange title for a track, but Dream Nails makes it become clear. The line “There are dark streets in you/I don’t want to go” is the core thrust of the song. It captures the essence of some dysfunctional relationships, set to driving drums and bass with plenty of great guitar riffs. It’s an odd metaphor but the energy the band fills the song with pulls it all together.

“Swimming Pool” melds pop punk energy with surf rock for a fun, summery jam. It’s a punchy, simple song that’s unabashedly joyful. The guitar and bass capture that glittery, sunny feeling while the lyrics tell a story about love. Sounds of splashing water underlay an interlude in the middle of the song with a spoken exchange: “Do you like girls?/Yeah/Well I do too/So let’s go/Where?/To the swimming pool!” It’s a sweet, cheery punk song about queer love.

Continuing with the summer theme is the next track, “This is the Summer.” A slice of life punk jam about iced coffee, traffic at the beach, and the smell of sun cream, the track starts out upbeat. But after the second chorus, increasingly fuzzy bass, drum rolls, and menacing, feedback drenched guitar turn the song into something less happy. While summer may be full of fun, the lyrics then remind you of all the things that are still sitting under the surface: 

“Fracking and flooding and land grabs, denial

Money, white supremacy, all dripping in oil

Displacement, migration and no reparations

We’ve got twelve years left to fix civilisation

The ones who pay aren’t the ones who made this

Colonial profit puts us all in danger

The ones who pay aren’t the ones who made this

Human lives are worth more than paper”

Dream Nails may write fun, happy, songs, but they also won’t let you forget the other side of things. They are focused on fighting the good fight, and nestling that brilliant verse in a happy sounding summer song is a brilliant display of what this band is capable of.

The next track is preceded by a brief clip of the band talking about self defense, with the bassist Mimi Jasson sharing some fighting tips, before “Payback” explodes in. Katz’s drums roll over feedback and a squeal breaks in to open the song. Meaty, distorted guitar powers in, sounding more like early metal than punk, as the entire band shouts, “One day, we’ll make you pay!” The track alternates between that rich distorted sound and quieter verses with a sound that’s reminiscent of the Cranberries. It’s a strange but amazing juxtaposition, and it makes for a killer track. The lyrics are harrowing but unyielding: “We drowned in fear, we swam in pain/We pulled ourselves back from the grave” and “Living in crosshairs, this is war/You took it all but still want more,” not to mention the cries of “Hey! Mister! Get your hands off my sister.” The song is full of righteous anger. It’s a denunciation of violence against women and vulnerable communities, and it doesn’t let you forget that “One day, we’ll make you pay!”

Before the final track, there’s a clip of a news story from May 2019 when two London women were beaten by four men in a homophobic attack. That story sets the stage for the final track on the album, “Kiss My Fist.” The track starts gently, with Janey Starling’s calm vocals over rumbling bass. Echoing drums fill the background before the chorus blasts in with cries of “Kiss my fist!/Kiss my fist!/You fear queers/But you can’t resist.” The lyrics confront the men who fetishize women couples and consume pornography, and then transfer that fetishization into homophobic interactions and violence against women. For such men, Dream Nails has a strong message: “We’re going to eat your brains!” The final lines of the song, “You fear us more than we fear you”, capture the empowerment that Dream Nails embodies on this album.

With a pop punk influenced sound, Dream Nails is full of power and vivacity, and their lyrics give voice to their undeniable activism. They are a bright band that effortlessly weaves between cutting loose and having fun with their music and crafting an unapologetic message that amplifies feminist and anti-homophobic voices. They’re fighting the good fight, and making some damn fine music while they’re doing it.

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