By Andrew Hall | 18 July 2011
After seeing them once as part of what might be the single worst bill of otherwise pretty competent touring bands I’d ever seen, I all but wrote off Nodzzz in 2008. The San Francisco trio played for what felt like a mere fifteen minutes, setting the stage for Vivian Girls to render their catalogue tuneless and Love Is All to prove themselves far less vital outside of the studio. I spent the rest of that night thinking about what it might be like to drive hours from metropolitan area to metropolitan area to play for fifteen minutes, wondering what the hell kind of mindset someone has to be in to be okay with a lifestyle defined by such aggressive fits and starts. Listening to Nodzzz’s self-titled debut (2008), which moves through ten songs in seventeen minutes, didn’t give me much additional perspective—though looking back now, having heard the band’s new record Innings, it probably should have.
Innings essentially deals in similar territory: short, wide-eyed, fragmented guitar pop with words that fairly straightforwardly elaborate on the titles, which act as topics of discussion for singer Anthony Atlas. For example, the narrator of “Always Make Your Bed” espouses the importance of always making one’s bed. You can safely assume that the title will show up in a song’s first line or as its chorus, like “Old Clothes,” a collection of ruminations on wearing (and wearing out) thrifted clothing. This directness and predisposition for extreme brevity helps to set them apart from the countless bands whose lyrics are so vague as to feel written in code, but also shapes a worldview that’s simultaneously kind of funny, pretty honest, and probably more engaging than it ought to be.
Despite the fact that only three tracks on Innings reach the two-minute mark, the trio’s songs are strikingly spacious. Not at all in line with two-minute punk outbursts, the band sticks to fairly conventional song structures at immediately approachable tempos almost entirely fleshed out and animated. “Fear of Advice,” the longest song on the record at 2:12, manages three verses and a chorus (guess what they’re about!), and comes to an end so naturally that it’s almost more surprising for not having an abrupt cutoff. One of the shortest, “Troubled Times,” gets through two entirely intelligible verses in a minute while making room for more jangling, deliberately off-tuned guitar solos; almost a solid sixth of its runtime consists of a fadeout. More than anything else, they’re good at breaking a song down to its most crucial elements without leaving it completely empty.
What brings Innings down is the aggressive similarity of the band’s work, especially in the second half. A number of songs embrace similar keys, tempo changes, and treble-heavy guitar solos, all of which are simple and functional but played with what feels like almost no variation. It’s clear that this band does one thing and does it quite well, but on the album’s best song, “Heyday Past Heyday Due,” Atlas manages to get out a mouthful of loaded phrases, at least some of which are about aging and parties, and the band uses a few simple production tricks to develop this sound ever so slightly into something more realized than many of the songs that follow.
Innings succeeds as a minor expansion and development of the band’s essential sound, and it’s a progression that makes clear sense. However, while its best moments hint at the fact that Nodzzz have far more potential than even their debut had let on, its weakest present strong evidence that what they do is unsustainable across the runtime of a full-length, even a really short one. As for whether on future releases they’ll be able to more consistently deliver the likes of “Heyday Past Heyday Due” and Nodzzz‘s “In the City (Contact High),” well, we can only hope. I’m certain of one thing, though: if I saw them now, I’d at least know what I was getting myself into, and I’d like them quite a bit more at least because of that—even if they were unfortunate enough to once again find themselves kicking off an otherwise memorably lousy show.