Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Music
cover art

Nurse & Soldier

Marginalia

(Jagjaguwar; US: 23 Jan 2007; UK: 29 Jan 2007)

There’s a reason why fans of Oneida stay as fiercely loyal as they do—it’s because Oneida is a band that enjoys frolicking in genres, discovering new instruments, new arrangements, and new sounds on a continual basis, while still grounding such rabid exploration in a digestible 4/4 context. Yet if you are, like many, not familiar with Oneida, then fear not what lies ahead: as you will discover, a pop side project of one particular Oneidan (Bobby Matador) with his longtime collaborator Erica Fletcher. It’s Mates of State with a touch of stoner crank; it’s a ‘60s psych-rock record tossed into a modern-day studio; it’s an album that’s just ... fun.


Any diehards will know that Marginalia is actually the second album from the duo, but the first eponymous 7” is a rarity to find these days, and perhaps for the better: it was a dry-run of some of the stoner-rock numbers that Oneida did just fine by itself (though “The 7-11 Song” proved quite amusing). Here, Matador and Fletcher enter the ring with a stronger sense of focus, and limit their attack to not just guitars and keyboards this time around. Even though the five-minute (long by N&S standards) opening song “Green Tea” is one of Marginalia’s weaker moments, it still manages to make the most out its simplistic-yet-mysterious keyboard riff, firmly standing in defiance of the fuzz and haze of their first outing. Standing in even further defiance is “In the Dark”—a drumless and reverb-heavy pop number that’s as bitterly sweet as it is catchy:


False ends and false starts
  From rattling in my heart
  Hardly an angel
  Losing my halo in the dark
  In the dark
  Motion all dry and
  Gorge on a lie and
  Where are the warm hands
  Big eyes and no demands in the dark?
  In the dark


The song ends in a toned-down-yet-still-ravenous guitar freakout that’s barely audible, as the song exhausts itself passing the three-minute mark. Already, it’s is one of the landmark pop moments of 2007—it’s really that good.


What’s unfortunate is how the rest of the album never rises to the self-imposed levels of brilliance exhibited on “In the Dark.”  Take a song like “Lies & Alterations”—the work of what could possibly be best described as a lazy New Pornographers track, with a morning shadow of distortion lying over its face. Again, it’s fine, but it gets by on its own sense of pop-quirk too easily. Even the hella-catchy “Brought Up Too Soon” feels a bit too pastiche, as if the aforementioned Mates of State somehow hijacked a HelloGoodbye song and snuck it back to the land of four-track demos. It’s hard to criticize an album for not simply being flat-out great, but it’s very easy when said album has so much potential lying around, and it just uses enough to get by. It’s not a bad listening experience, it just could be a better one.


Yet for every moment they fall into a been-there-done-that musicality, it’s the lyrics that, time and time again, pop the band out and show a large amount of emotional maturity. Just take the opening line from the gorgeously simple closer “Her Higher Education”:


When all the other girls
  Were at the soccer games we were
  Swimming naked in the creek at night
  And looking at the stars
  There was never any question
  That the thing we felt was real
  Like an adolescent carnival
  The drunken wonder-wheel


The song is fast-paced (it gets through this verse, the chorus, and half the second verse before it even hits the 60-second mark), but another reminder to what Nurse & Soldier is capable of. The album breezes by at a similar speed: it blazes through 14 tracks in less than 40 minutes, but remains an emotional, joyous, and ultimately fun experience. For now, it’s just a side-project, but given enough love and time, it will bloom into something so much more.

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and many more. Evan has been a guest on HuffPost Live, RevotTV's "Revolt Live!", and WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry (Hot Shot Records), and many others. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.