Sunday, November 25, 2007

EP Review: Nuclear Children

by Dave Schaefer

The Nuclear Children released their EP Wear Black and Come When We Call this past September (I know, I know, another late review...). Jason Matthew, Matthew Gene, Rory Daniel, Nikolei Mario make up the band with Jason taking the lead on mic and lyrics.

At first listen, the sound immediately brought back memories of the 80’s American indie underground -- that Reagan-era DIY sound that spawned the likes of Minor Threat, Minutemen, Butthole Surfers, Social Distortion and countless others. Putting together songs that had a certain depth, but were damn fun, always cynical, and seldom brooding, the underground bands of that decade -- both east and west coast -- had the rare quality of both striking out in fun and hitting where it hurts. The Nuclear Children capture some -- though by no means all -- of that old-school feel.

The EP overall is fairly diverse, as though they chose a different persona for each of the tracks, while at the same time sounding distinctly like themselves. Shades of Social Distortion, Ramones, and others seep into the songs without Jason sounding like any of them. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why the EP is so appealing -- it sounds like Nuclear Children, not Nuclear Children trying to sound like someone else. Some of the brilliance comes from the arrangement, simplicity, and sound of the background vocals.

Not every song hits the mark -- “Yoko Ohno” lacks something to make it interesting -- however, strong opener “Karma Sutra” does. It’s a perfect first track because it shows what to expect for the rest of Wear Black and Come When We Call. And for the most part, the EP delivers.

Here’s a track-by-track rundown...

Karma Sutra
This may well be the strongest track on the EP. It’s a good introduction to who Nuclear Children are and what’s to come. During the first 25 seconds of the song, you wonder if this is going to be same-old-same-old, typical, local music CD that’s tossed together on someone’s MacBook. But then the hook kicks in and you realize this might be something different than what you were expecting.

When Jason’s rough, somewhat husky voice kicks in, it doesn’t immediately match the lighter, more treble sound of the music, but it’s easily dismissed by the time his second line is sung. And before shades of a chorus even start, you’re convinced his voice was made for this music. The backup vocals are vaguely reminiscent of 60s pop, giving the song a light, innocent feel, even as Jason is singing of sex, cheating, and one-night stands.

Kamekazi O
The intro music on this track catches your attention immediately -- unfortunately, the first line of the lyrics (“No, we’re not gonna take it”) doesn’t. Primarily because it’s just too familiar of a line, but maybe it just brings back memories of 80’s hair bands. Jason doesn’t seem to give this song quite as much care as the previous track, delivering fairly monotone lyrics. Having said that, the appeal of this song is the dichotomy of Jason’s shouting-at-a-frat-party delivery and the upbeat, poppy backup vocals. A clever combination that works.

In The News
This is the most musically odd of anything on this EP. Piped with the high-pitched sounds of an electronic circus organ, it’s as if the notes were pulled from the background music of an old-fashioned carnival carousel. Given the lyrical content -- the sensationalistic bent of today’s “news” broadcasts -- the circus feel is likely fully intentional. And it works. The lyrics are brilliantly cynical and have serious content, but put forth in a completely tongue-in-cheek way that's ultimately appealing.

Yoko Oh No
As much as it sounds Butthole Surfer-ish, this track is fairly standard. Both words and music lack what the other songs on the EP have, so it’s easy to dismiss this as a yawner. It’s not that it’s a particularly bad song, it just somewhat bland and has a harder time standing out alongside the higher quality of the other offerings on the CD.

We Are Carbon
Unlike “Yoko Oh No,” this track nails it. Excellent lyrics about life and death (though mostly death) match up perfectly with a melancholic music arrangement that creates a great, feel-bad song. The perfect closer to the EP of a band that’s definitely worth keeping your eye on.

Upcoming shows:
11/29 @ The Basement (Junior Revolution CD Release Show)
12/14 @ CD101 Big Room (Andyman-a-thon)
12/18 @ Skully's (free show)
12/21 @ The Drunken Unicorn (Atlanta)

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