“When I was an alien / Cultures weren’t opinions,” sang a 24-year-old Kurt Cobain on “Territorial Pissings,” the most outright punk rock track from Nirvana’s 1991 record “Nevermind.” “Never met a wise man / If so, it’s a woman.”
Over 20 years later, fellow Seattle punk act Tacocat answered his frustration with its 2014 album “NVM.” “Now I understand / ‘Cause I’m the alien,” sings Tacocat vocalist Emily Nokes on “Alien Girl.” “NVM” brought Tacocat acclaim for its feminist takes with songs on catcalling (“Hey Girl”), menstruation (“Crimson Wave”), seasonal depression (“Bridge to Hawaii”) — all somewhat taboo topics handled with equanimity and fun.
What Tacocat does best is sharp social commentary in a colorful candy shell. Case in point: Nokes and bassist Bree McKenna penned a satirical piece for Seattle’s alt-weekly the Stranger titled “Men Who Rock!,” the cover photo of which was a topless male musician with his jeans unbuttoned, a la Janet Jackson’s 1993 Rolling Stone feature. The effect, like most of Tacocat’s songs, is a bonkers rainbow package of clever callouts of the status quo.
“It feels better to have satire as a tool for conveying our point rather than just yelling,” McKenna says. “That’s not the approach we feel fits naturally in our personality.”
But two years after “NVM” released, Donald Trump won the presidency, and the line between irony and reality blurred for many. For Tacocat, in a tight-knit network of queer and feminist bands, the subsequent cultural discussions made satire a primary language.
“This Mess is a Place” released in May 2019, the band’s first on legendary Seattle label Sub Pop, also the first to release a Nirvana album. Tacocat was previously on Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art, and the move to “the big kids’ table,” as the band has called it, feels fitting given its messaging shift. Where “NVM” was in on the joke, “This Mess” wonders if any of this is funny at all. As summarized by Nokes’ crystalline wail on “The Joke of Life,” “The joke is that the joke is already a joke.”
“We were a little more direct on this record. There’s only so much satire you can do for this situation,” McKenna says.
“This Mess is a Place” takes the band’s incisive lyricism to a poignant place, less a “This sucks!” manifesto and more introspective. It sounds like hands being tossed in the air in frustration, then lowered back down to do the work. Tacocat is organizing voter registration on its 2020 tour, which includes a Feb. 9 stop at the Vanguard with AJJ.
The idea is to channel all that frustration into something productive, McKenna says. “On the negative side of things, that’s not when we want to make art,” she says. “There’s a lot of anger in it, but we’re really hopeful for the future, and I think you can hear it.”