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Nice Nice - Extra Wow

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Artist: Nice Nice

Album: Extra Wow

Label: Warp

Review date: May. 13, 2010

Having gotten into punk at the end of the 1990s, I started going out to shows just in time to catch what in retrospect feels like the last wave of the Fugazi and Slint dynasties, a decade-long lineage of bands for whom high-mindedness and stark, anti-pop abstraction were more than a given; it was practically written into their genetic codes. When rumblings were first heard of Lightning Bolt, of Beaches and Canyons and of some folky weirdoes called Animal Collective, it wasn’t immediately clear that a new era (one of many, all unfolding concurrently) was upon us, a new dynasty ascending. But here we are now, another 10 years gone by, and I’m reviewing Nice Nice.

Remember "Acid Police," from the Boredoms’ Chocolate Synthesizer? Way back then, the chanting vocals, balls-out heavy drums and gloriously epic guitar work seemed so far afield and fringe that the thought of anyone trying to copy it simply never occurred to me. But with the release of Super Ae and, especially, Vision Creation Newsun, the Boredoms revealed themselves to be far more than a few bizarro eccentrics – they were prophets. The high energy, new age bliss-out has become a modern trope if there ever was one, and Nice Nice is one among many who trade in it.

The reason to harp on the Boredoms and on our decade of chirping, consonant washes is because of Nice Nice’s particular debt to their cultural forefathers and their particular mishmash of a few particularly of-the-moment musical ingredients. I mean, really… Pounding, cyclical drums? Check. Soaring guitar solos? Check. Chanted vocals with lyrics about waves and circles inside of circles? Check. Soothing, cascading pentatonic washes? Check check check. The list goes on, but I think we can stop here. Whether or not they intended it, on Extra Wow Nice Nice have essentially made a tribute album to Eye, Yoshimi and Co.

The problem with ripping off a band as ambitious and singular as the Boredoms is that the results are at best second-best and at worst a total widow maker. Thankfully, Nice Nice manages to sail through the jagged rocks of utterly useless redundancy unscathed, but the beach they safely land on is one of uninspiring competence. Their tones are warm, their soundscapes full and layered, and, most importantly, their musicianship is quite good. The drums drive with appropriate force, the guitar lines slither effortlessly, all that kind of stuff. Still, the feeling is one of diminishing returns, of an epic-ness strangely unearned, of a band doing everything exactly right and coming up short. It seems that their breathless sugar rush is intended to induce a state of unfettered joy or something akin to that in the listener. Listening to Extra Wow, I felt nothing.

Beyond the by-the-books vibe of the music, there are some specific things that hinder them from having any deep impact: first of all, the vocals are pretty weak. Strained and sounding weirdly filtered or processed, they sit neither in the front nor in the back, sort of guiding the song but sort of being carried by it. Vocals are usually the key to a song’s emotional life, unlocking the abstract depths implied by all the music left off the written page. Here, they offer little in the way of clarification, suggesting perhaps a nice-ish feeling or maybe a hazy childishness, but not much more. Secondly, Nice Nice aren’t much for songwriting. When channeling their inner popsmiths they do a decent job of moving from A to B, but their structures are cluttered, indeed marred, by an overabundance of stuff - blips and washes reverb and other such tools of the wandering mind. Strangely, though, when trying to tackle more infinite fare on the Neu!-worshipping "A Vibration," they cut out too early. Longer formations would seem to be a perfect canvas for their packed-full sound collages, giving them space to unwind and jam out. Instead, they wrap it up before they have a chance to get started.

This is not to say the album is without merits. "See Waves" (vaguely irritating title aside) rides a honey-sweet highlife riff over a pleasingly bouncy beat. Stuck in the middle of the 50-plus minutes, it gets a little lost, but if people still made mix tapes it would surely find more than a few decent homes there. And the aforementioned "A Vibration" shows promise in its lushness, despite the curtailed running time. Still, when they sing/mumble something about an invitation, I wonder what exactly we’re being invited to, and if they even know.

One of the bars I work at has an immensely popular 90s dance night, where people go absolutely apeshit for Smashing Pumpkins, Temple of the Dog, and Harvey Danger. But earlier in the night, the DJs jam some Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill and the like. "Waiting Room" always makes an appearance, and always gets a response. It’s funny hearing all that stuff together in one place, hearing the unifying cultural thread that runs through it, and hearing how very different it sounds from music being made today. After recently sitting through five hours of alternarock, grunge, riot grrrl and Cypress Hill, I began to wonder what a 00s night would look like. It would probably have more Strokes and post punk revival and Arctic Monkeys and White Stripes and Missy Elliott than the crew that gave birth to Nice Nice, but maybe early in the night, they could jam Ride the Skies or something. Although it would be a little more obscure, a track off Extra Wow would fit nicely in that slot, neatly encapsulating one of the major trends of its time. I can see it now: it’s 2018 or so, we’ve got a beer in hand, and Nice Nice comes on the system. We smile, say "oh shit what is this," and then suddenly remember. The warm light of nostalgia reflects on them flatteringly, and we briefly reminisce about a moment from our younger years, now long past and replaced with something we would never have expected.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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