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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Nein
Wrath of Circuits
Sonic Unyon Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


May 17, 2005
It's not the sort of thing someone running for public office would say; you could get videotaped smoking crack on a street corner in broad daylight while propositioning a transvestite prostitute and still get more votes than some guy who blurts out, "I'm a man of the people and people are food." Just let that sink in for a second. It's one of those lyrics that when you hear it, you immediately stop what you're doing and ask yourself, "Did he really say what I think he said?"

If you're listening to The Nein's irresistibly odd debut, Wrath of Circuits, you better believe he did. It's a line from "Foreign Friendster", an inspired bit of fractured pop lunacy with the kind of sharp, engrossing hooks you'd expect to hear from Spoon. Above a meaty, elastic bass line float weird, whirring keyboards and moody tape manipulation - courtesy of Dale Flattum (Steel Pole Bathtub and Milk Cult) - you get taken through an insane asylum as it's being demolished. And that's all well and good. But it's lines like that which stick in your head - it's like something out of Soylent Green. What's that you say Mr. Heston, the food is made out of people? That's messed up, man.

But no more so than our sham of a democracy. Even the so-called populists can't be trusted anymore. Everybody wants to pass themselves of as "a man of the people." And even bluebloods like George W. and John Kerry get away with it. When you've got constituents who are that gullible, it's easy to see them as food. Every election is a buffet and guys like that grow fatter and fatter.

That sort of thinking - if indeed that is what The Nein is trying to say here - is dangerous. And so is The Nein. Not so much in the political sense, though their thoughts on technology and the terror of it advancing to the point where human cannot control it are somewhat subversive. Contrary to what you might think from their name, they are not German Marxists. They are from North Carolina, for God's sake.

No, what's scary about The Nein is their ingenious songwriting. No two songs sound the same, and yet almost every one of them has some sort of dissonant, fractured melody that seizes you by the synapses. And there's an incredible amount of activity going on in every track, so much in fact that it threatens to overload your brain.

"The Vibe" is as good a place to start as any. It begins with crystalline loops of sound emanating from a child's music box. A fuzz-toned bass groove emerges, along with bubbling water and drums that bang like together like the building blocks of a toddler. There are backing vocals, probably sampled, that have sort of a gospel feel to them, like the kind you hear on Moby's Play. And all of this is just prelude to Robert Biggers' drum chaos, and the whirling vortex of synthetic sound at the end that give you that feeling that you've fallen into a wormhole.

The journey is just beginning. On "Courtesy Bows To New Wave", The Nein recreates the skewed art-punk of Q And Not U's Different Damage, sanding down the rough edges with lithe male vocals and maraca percussion textures. Melodies shift with all the subtlety of tides. There's even a brief horn sound that sounds warm and inviting, though it soon disappears. You want more of it, though

Such well-crafted, wonderfully strange melodies don't need all of Flattum's bells and whistles; yet, they work. His deft touch with sounds seemingly unearthed from an archeological dig in the distant future behind Brian Eno's house make each song a funhouse of unorthodox sampling. Helicopter blades cut through the cool night air of "Jim Morrison In Desert", with its off-kilter piano blinking like a neon sign and drawn out horns and wind instruments sweeping through the streets of some Middle Eastern bazaar.

There's the exotic foreign female wailing in "Heatseekr" just before stabbing guitar disembowels you and the gathering, low-end bass storm drowns out your screams. Look out, though, because here comes wild saxophone wrangling that ropes you like a calf. At times, like in "Crawl Grow Red Slow", The Nein cruises the gutters of New York City at night with Girls Against Boys. Then, they'll turn abrasive and noisy, like in the title track, and set up a black market of dissonance selling only Enon's dispeptic pop. And just when you think you know what's coming, The Nein finish it off with the Beatles-esque number, "Bleeding Elvis."

Impossible to pigeonhole, with the warped imagination of Salvador Dali, The Nein has done what so many other bands have tried and failed to do. And that is that they've managed to make something so unique and off the wall seem ... well, accessible. Casey Burns' bass is the strained leash that somehow keeps like six excited, barking dogs from running off in all directions. Finn Cohen's piano touches pull aside a sonic thicket of wires and grip your heart. Biggers is a furious drummer capable of restraint and madness. And Flattum fills in the empty spaces with wonderful, scary noises. There is wrath in The Nein's circuits, but there's also a refined pop sensibility that shows up on the computer monitor.

The late Randy Ward was a friend of The Nein. He was a fellow musician from the Raleigh/Durham Triangle who once built a mechanism that played the drums live. It's an example of the possibilities of circuit-bending, a means of connecting different circuits together on the circuit board of say a keyboard to manipulate sound. Ward would be amazed by what The Nein has done with his inspiration.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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