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Nod - Good Night Sleep

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Artist: Nod

Album: Good Night Sleep

Label: Smells Like

Review date: Jun. 18, 2002

If it were really possible to compile an index of the greatest rock shows of all time, to set in motion some infallible algorithm as a means for reconciling that most subjective of all qualitative terms, well then I'm willing to bet that the smuggest of the big city dwellers would be largely disappointed. Or, at the very least, I want to believe that. I want to believe that the smelliest drop of sweat shed at the best show the Embarrassment ever played in Wichita, Kansas was more golden than that second encore at Tonic which caused somebody in the crowd to give in and light their first Nat Sherman in over a week in quiet delight; that the Minutemen's greatest live set, almost certainly occurring in some cramped neighborhood bar in some nameless second-rate city, was a night to rival all CBGB's lore; and that if a tree falls in the forest and the elite of the underground press aren't within hundreds of miles of hearing it, it might still make a sound, and a very big sound, because rest assured, somebody right there in that room is listening, and in the end, what's more important than that?

I came to this realization growing up outside of Rochester, New York, a city with a perpetually slumping economy, an often losing triple-A farm team, and a brewery home to some of the worst swill in America (Genny) – but a city with some good bands nevertheless, like many other small cities in America and throughout the rest of the world. I don't expect names like Hilkka or Speedqueen or Quadrafacet or Muler to mean anything specific to anyone, but I do intend to suggest that there really is, or at some point was, a band, label, or distro in every city from Albany to Zagreb worth paying attention to, and indeed some of the most exciting music still arriving at my radio station every week is from those Milwaukee's (Crouton Records) and Prague's (Tamizdat Records) of the world. Another example – one of the most beautiful pop records I have ever heard was recorded by a band called the Visitors, who recorded it (their only one, Miss) as teenagers in an isolated coastal town in England before breaking up for good. Songs on that record, with titles like "Waking Up To Nothing", are magic because – not despite – their origin. What I'm saying is that when you pick up a magazine to read Jim O'Rourke spouting about leaving Chicago (Chicago!) for the only real game in town, well, that's great for him, but it's not a necessary detail to plan your next move around. New York's an indisputably phenomenal place to experience music, but so was, and maybe some nights still is, the Bug Jar – the Rochester club where on the night that Jad Fair decides he's too tired to show up on his way through to the Big Apple, your substitute Social Studies teacher's band is allowed to leap around the stage for an hour longer and where, in the end, it's a better show than it ever would have been had things gone as planned.

Nod are among the best, and are probably the best known, of the Rochester bands, and their new record, like their previous two, is on Steve Shelley's Smells Like Records (all aforementioned Rochester bands put out, or once put out, records on Rochester's stellar Carbon label). Good Night Sleep is a wonderful record, but one that will probably only garner the passing glance that Nod’s four other records have received, which is a pity. For the past ten years, under the surveillance of few, Nod has been peeling back familiar genres of music (jazz, blues, funk, folk) to find something indescribable and alien underneath, which generations of those genres' purveyors have somehow missed all along. It's the reason that Good Night Sleep, like much of Nod's catalog, sounds like an old friend by first listen, but is screwy enough around its edges to warrant some serious catching-up time.

Take the lead-off track, “Old Hotel”, which pits “Scrappy” Joe Sorriero’s fragile vocals against a grooving guitar beat in order to create a pleasantly hummable pop tune before deciding such a goal is sophomoric, and thereby (de)generating into a session of gloriously wild noodling. Nod are masters of spontaneous invention, and all members are granted equal license to stray, resulting in flat vocals that bend back and forth for effect while the bass line shambles obliviously and the drums gallop breezily along. In “Space Whale” each musician putters impatiently with his respective part, the result being a loping bluegrass-sounding instrumental that finds its stride, uninterestedly gives it up, and later grabs it back again at its own leisure. Remember the first time you heard “Blue Line Swinger”, and you weren’t sure how, for the first few minutes, it was ever going to all fit together, and then, somehow, it did? Good Night Sleep can be best described as an album-length exploration of those minutes, or minutes like them. All of it is done in the spirit of childlike inquisitiveness, as is evident Sorriero’s lyrics - stories of fortune-telling gypsies and playful pokes in the eye. Listening to Nod, you feel as though you are somehow witnessing live the exciting first moment that their songs begin to take shape – an effect that comes only with the musicians’ calculated anticipation of each other. Their brilliance is in this spirit of sloppiness: Nod just wouldn’t be Nod if Sorriero wasn’t just a bit shy of in-tune, if bassist Tim Pollard wasn’t just slightly uncooperative, if every part fit together seamlessly.

So there it is – one great little band from an anonymous little city, cranking out music that you’d do good to hear, the kind of band that could do incredibly well if somebody were to somehow develop the musical equivalent of the blind taste test. (By coincidence, Genny’s been swearing the same thing about its own product for years). As far as finding more like them…well, as Sorriero sings, “It doesn’t have to be that hard./ Just start in your own backyard.”

By Nathan Hogan

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