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Nude Beach

II

(Fat Possum; US: 14 Aug 2012; UK: Import)

Nude Beach is one of those bands that’s been living in Brooklyn for a few years and making a name for themselves around New York City, one assumes. Up until now they’ve been proudly DIY, self-releasing cassettes and vinyl records and the like. But they’ve signed with Fat Possum Records and, weirdly, II is going to be the first thing that almost anyone has heard from the band. As introductions go, it’s a good one.


This album is full of unfussy rock and roll that immediately brings to mind names like Tom Petty and Social Distortion. The songs are hard-charging but not too fast while simultaneously jangly but not saccharine. II‘s third track, “Some Kinda Love”, exemplifies this style. Drummer Ryan Naideau chugs along on hi-hat eighth notes and dutifully hits the snare on beats two and four while guitarist/singer Chuck Betz sings at the top of his lungs. When Betz hits the shout-along chorus, “‘Cause, baby / Some kinda love could bring me baaack!!”, it’s hard not to smile. What keeps Nude Beach from leaning too far into punk or sliding over into pop is its contrasts. A punk song would pair the drums with slashing distorted guitar chords, and Nude Beach opts for chiming, open-sounding picked riffs instead. A pop song would have the chorus be a catchy sing along, but Betz is shouting instead.


Even the album’s slower moments find this balance. Would-be ballad “You Make It So Easy” has some subtle background atmospherics (Steel drum? Marimba? Keyboards? It’s tough to tell) but the band just can’t lay back far enough to make it gentle. Jimmy Shelton’s bassline is a bit too active and Betz’s guitar a bit too rough, and it comes off sounding like a slow rocker instead. “Don’t Have to Try” comes closest, sounding for all the world like a ‘50s love song with its 6/8 time and organ accompaniment. But Nude Beach isn’t going to stay that still for long, so the back half of the song finds them rocking out pretty loudly.


While Betz’s throaty vocals dominate II, there are a handful of songs where Naideau takes over the singing, and it gives the band a nice change of pace. His slightly nasal tone doesn’t really register on the album’s opener “Radio”, but it’s very effective when he pops up again mid-album. When combined with Betz’s preference for jangly guitar lines, Naideau’s voice really makes the Tom Petty comparison snap into place on the easygoing “Keep it Cool.” And when he belts it out on “Love Can’t Wait”, an album highlight, it almost sounds like a lost early ‘90s Petty b-side.


If there’s a problem with II, it’s that nothing much stands out. Sure, “Some Kind of Love” and “Love Can’t Wait” are clearly the album’s best songs. But because Nude Beach is such a straight-ahead rock band, there isn’t much that’s distinctive about them. It’s like rock and roll comfort food. It’s easy to listen to and appropriately fun and catchy. Everything here is good, but nothing is great. The downside of the Tom Petty and Social D comparisons is that the majority of rock-oriented music listeners in North America have been hearing this kind of stuff extensively for the last 30 years. As solid as this album is, without better hooks or more interesting guitar playing or something, I worry that Nude Beach is fated to be perpetual, inoffensive background music.

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