[30 June 2010]
The fifth track on Nice Nice’s latest album Extra Wow is called “Everything Falling Apart”, and it’s about the time that a listener not prepared for the onslaught that Nice Nice offers will turn it off. At that point, “Everything Falling Apart” feels more like a mission statement than a song title. Maybe that listener will never listen to Extra Wow again after it. If I hadn’t been tasked to write about the thing, I probably wouldn’t have bothered.
Nice Nice is an improvisational duo that specializes in the art of the looped overdub. Despite the fact that there are only two of them playing at any given time, their music tends to sound as though there are more like 15. And it’s all live, in a manner of speaking—they’ll play a part, start looping that, play another part, loop that, and so on, until the speakers are filled to their breaking points with unapologetic, typically chaotic stews of rhythmic sound. It’s an impressive feat, and worth hearing as a proof of a concept at the very least. The audience that will enjoy Nice Nice’s music is, however, far smaller than the audience that will appreciate it.
For five tracks, straight through “Everything Falling Apart”, that statement holds particularly true. Opener “Set and Setting” sounds like an extended instrumental bridge that only gives us the part of the song between the second chorus and the third verse. Of course, Nice Nice gives it to us for nearly four minutes, making for an excruciating wait for the next song, which will surely offer up some release. Only “One Hit” does no such thing, proving to be even more chaotic than “Set and Setting” with its slow, metronomic foundation combined with a propensity to fill in the space between every vocal phrase with atonal, frenetic chaos. “A Way We Glow” sounds as though it might offer some respite with a rhythmic line that resembles a sped-up drum circle, but it never quite takes off, content to serve as an intro to the vague spaceship ride that is “On and On”.
For whatever reason, there is something like a turning point after those first five tracks. Songs start to sound like songs, beats like beats, and the tired, exasperated listener is finally offered something to hold on to. “Big Bounce” offers this big, Levee-Breaking sort of beat, while whistles and bells and keyboards romp all around it. “See Waves” is the sort of rhythmic builder that Animal Collective perfected back in their Sung Tongs and Feels days. “Double Head” sounds suspiciously like a techno tune. The closer “It’s Here” may crescendo into chaos like the earlier tracks, but then it strips the dense noise away again in favor of a little bit of peaceful drone with bonus nature sounds.
Extra Wow almost sounds as if members Jason Buehler and Mark Shirazi are trapped by the label of “improvisational artists”. With that label comes the expectation of chaos, as if everything you create should be Art-with-a-capital-“A”, and should be studied more than enjoyed. Still, there’s more than improvisation to be found in Extra Wow. There are moments, small passages in which the entropy coheres into something more, passages which somehow make the chaotic bits more palatable. If you’ve heard the latter half of the album, you’re more likely to put up with the former. There’s a payoff to the endurance test.
It sounds as though Extra Wow is exactly the album that Buehler and Shirazi set out to make, which is commendable. It’s not a poorly-performed album, and it’s not completely unlistenable. Still, it’s hard to recommend it when its primary quality is its difficulty. Emotion and feeling are secondary to the construction of the thing, and the rare moments that do offer something beyond the chaos are mere footholds and nothing more. Extra Wow is for those who love sound; those looking for more may need to search elsewhere.