You might’ve made up your mind about a band called Iguana Death Cult before even pressing play, but this five-piece isn’t some dreadful psych band whose weed-smoking habits have become their personality and overtaken their music. It’s the name of a Rotterdam-based group who are capable of turning any random night into the pick-me-up punk dance party that you didn’t know you needed.
After some time spent rehearsing in an old powder house back in their Dutch hometown, Iguana Death Cult became local live favorites and self-released their debut album, The First Stirrings of Hideous Insect Life, in 2017—but their ambitions extended beyond their own country. Their raucous appearance at SXSW 2019 eventually led to a record deal with L.A.’s Innovative Leisure (BADBADNOTGOOD, Allah-Lahs), who put out their second and latest album Nude Casino.
The First Stirrings of Hideous Insect Life was largely an unhinged garage-punk venture with some added guitar twang. It was a dirty record perpetually in motion—perfectly suited to a dive bar show, but not necessarily the most satisfying listen elsewhere. Frontman Jeroen Reek’s lyrics were often muddied by his rough, nondescript vocals and a production style that’s basically just “plug and play.” But that first album had promise thanks to addictive rhythms and memorable guitar work, especially the hooky garage rock of “The Dreamer” and the pumping horror punk-tinged “Pyramids.”
Nude Casino addresses all the weaknesses of their debut and even sharpens their strengths. It’s a step up on every front—their sound is more crisp, the vocal style is more distinct, the songs are punchier and the lyrics are not only decipherable, but add a healthy dose of charisma and emotional intimacy. The record was mastered by Dave Cooley (Tame Impala, Blood Orange, Ariel Pink), who undeniably helped tighten their sonics, and their layered production leaves plenty of room for each element to shine. Reek leaves behind the blues-inflected Growlers-esque vocals of Hideous Insect Life for a charming, punky speak-sing, and his hearty, often amusing delivery means you won’t miss that bluesiness one bit. The band also replaces their lingering psychedelic undertones with ramped-up Gun Club post-punk, plus the occasional emergence of New Wave rhythms, funky keyboards and krautrock basslines.
Even though Nude Casino isn’t an explicitly character-driven affair, you’ll travel with people from all walks of life thanks to guitars and lyrics both extremely evocative in nature. When they spring into the title track before any vocals emerge, the shuffling drums and guitar boomerangs evoke the colorful mischief of nights out where even a humdrum accountant can feel like a Clint Eastwood desperado while strutting down the street, given the right amount of alcohol and style of boots. “Nude Casino” describes the kind of late night debauchery that will make you try just about anything, whether that’s “wrestling a tiger,” “making fun of cyclopses” or ending up gambling at the wacky aforementioned casino (“I went to a nude casino / Guess where people keep their chips”).
While Iguana Death Cult will likely inspire a level of mindless rambunctiousness, that doesn’t mean that Nude Casino is mindless. The tracks’ themes are permutations of common modern day predicaments—overwhelming anxiety, existential crises, unhealthy coping mechanisms, social woes and a desire to escape it all. ”Bright Lights” finds Reek shivering and twitching in a panic in his room despite having no enemies. Despite its fun, bratty instrumentals, “Lorraine” is an admission of emotional shielding (“Wear my cynical mask in an attempt to function”) before taking a nosedive into a bleak, existential realization (“27 years, still no use for my existence”).
There’s also a lurking boredom and exhaustion here—and while these topics may not be as immediately pressing as crippling anxiety, their pervasiveness is no doubt a contributing factor to our shared restlessness. On “Carnal Beat Machine,” Reek’s fatigue (“Wasting my entire life with being tired of living”) leads him to desire nothing more than the purest highs he can think of (“To dance, to sing, to fuck, now you’re gaining my attention”), and when paired with a babbling bassline, funky organ flourishes and a colorful, Talking Heads-like spirit, it feels triumphant.
This record might sound bleak if it weren’t for its spastic rhythms and lyrics that frequently amuse. Reek sings of peacocks, staring competitions with flowers, liquified humans and even an absurd run-in with a nude old woman, but no song can compare to the sharp “Tuesday’s Lament,” where he contrasts a personalized heaven with actual reality. He imagines living in an Art Deco treehouse near a river of red wine, but where his naughty humor shines is in his allusion to male anatomy, humorously skipping to the subsequent line: (“Black girls, brown girls, white girls on my boat and on my d-d-d-d- / Disco shovelling diva’s”). In their most subdued number, armed with their most singalong-worthy chorus, they picked the perfect occasion for illuminating social commentary, seemingly implicating the man in the White House (“All hail the tangerine king!”) and delivering one of the best closing verses you’ll hear this year with conviction: “Aggression stands for power / But we’re scared to love each other / What the fuck ever happened / To Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts?”
Nude Casino is a quest to wriggle out of life’s bitter clutches with the maximum possible levels of fun and debauchery. Whether they’re channeling Dr. Feelgood, Can or Richard Hell, they’ll keep your head bobbing or your whole body thrashing. Reek presents himself as a neurotic mess, and this album is his wide array of responses to such neuroses—total breakdown, wild nights out, wacky dreams, seclusion and even imagining himself in liquid form. Nude Casino may be full of surreal imagery, but the album’s mercurial happenings couldn’t be more realistic.