There’s something off-putting about a group that claims outright to be an “adult band… playing music for other grown-ups.” You’d have to be pretty self-righteous and not a little full of yourself to alienate a potential audience before your first full-length has even seen the light of day. What happened to “the kids are all right”? Wasn’t this the year that artists were trying to reach the youth of America on a political level? It seems that The Nein couldn’t be bothered to rally all the young dudes to their cause. If I was still a kiddo, I’d probably take offense.
But I’m not a kid, and I’ve come to a conclusion of my own, keeping in mind a couple of factors. First, despite all the pre-election rah-rah, the youth voter turnout, while higher than in the past, still wasn’t all that great—so much for that effort. Second, The Nein gives enough of a damn about this country to include their concerns within the music itself. This is why we should resist the urge to pass The Nein off as just another contributor to the ‘80s revival movement. Sure, the influences are there, but they’re not singing about go-go dancers and going out on the town. Kids, this isn’t Franz Ferdinand. Adults, this isn’t Duran Duran. And The Nein isn’t trying to alienate you. They’re warning you.
The songs on this EP have a good beat that you can dance to, but it’s not a party going down at The Nein’s house. If we dance, it’s only because dancing offers a better alternative to slugging our neighbors. It’s the physical manifestation of the frustration and angst of growing up in a divided country. And I’m not talking about right versus left. I’m talking about those who care versus those who would rather collect their paychecks and watch TV. Put more simply, I wouldn’t expect The Nein to appear on The O.C. anytime soon.
“Five Extinctions”, the lead-off track, begins slow and methodical, with a reverb-heavy drum beat and moving bass line. The vocals are more plaintive than melodic. Then, as the song breaks into a speedy tribal jaunt, the layered guitars bleed together into a mish-mash of dissonant, squirrelly riffs. It’s a tune that’s felt more than heard, and it sets the tone for the rest of the record.
If there’s anything resembling a single here, it’s the second track “Handout”, which is aided by an anthemic vocal bridge and chorus. “War Is on the Stereo”, however, is the EP’s standout track. Imagine the photo negative of an ‘80s pop song. It’s sad and dark—infectious instead of catchy. Not since Metallica’s “One” has a snare drum so aptly represented a machine gun. The song peaks as the beat picks up, and you can almost picture a crowd of angry citizens raising their fists in unison to challenge their perceived adversaries. In the end, the song dwindles into droning synthesizers and a guitar riff that’s almost pretty. It’s a brief intermission, however, as the second half of the record continues to swim through challenging guitar arrangements.
The one constant throughout is the bass. It’s the drive—the incentive to keep moving. It’s the canvas that ultimately gets splattered with razor-scrape guitar riffs and erratic drum beats and fills. Like I said, though, it’s still very danceable, at least for anyone who has ever worshipped at the altar within the dark church of Steve Albini.
Last track “Clearwater” is a quiet closer, but no less disquieting than the tracks that precede it. Its echoed vocals and keyboard manipulations dispense unease in the wake of what’s to come. It’s perhaps an even more affecting cliffhanger now, considering that this country’s got four more years under the man The Nein obviously wanted to see vanquished.
The aged part of me that’s succumbed to cynicism kind of wishes that more kids were into bands like The Nein. Most of them probably wouldn’t get it, though—or would choose not to. It’s just a little too real, and not particularly fun. I think The Nein understands that the kids really are all right, whether they realize it or not. When they grow up, however, and things get really tough, the fabricated angst of today’s pop won’t get them through it. Hopefully, The Nein and others like them will still be around to handle the task.