TacocaT: NVM

[7 March 2014]

By Chris Conaton

If TacocaT had to get by simply on its buoyant power-pop, it would be a middling band in a vast sea of middling pop-punk and power-pop bands. You know the type: they love the Ramones and various other acts, mostly from the ‘80s and ‘90s ranging from the Go-Go’s to Green Day, and play their instruments well enough to string together three chords. These are the groups that can manage one or two truly good songs per album but don’t really have a knack for hooks. The songwriting on TacocaT’s second album, NVM, is a lot like that. It’s bright and fun and sometimes catchy and every now and then guitarist Eric Randall tosses off a cool riff or a surprisingly competent surf-rock solo. And sometimes drummer Lelah Maupin reaches back to ‘50s and early ‘60s rock for her beats, which is a nice change of pace.

By and large, though, TacocaT’s music isn’t particularly noteworthy. What elevates the band is its lyrical specificity. Almost every one of NVM’s 13 songs has a distinct point of view and a clear premise. In a genre of music full of vague romantic platitudes and angst and flailing, unfocused societal anger, TacocaT’s directness makes them stand out. It helps that those lyrics are generally lightly amusing and singer Emily Nokes delivers them with what sounds like a wry smirk. The fact that none of the record’s 13 tracks even scrapes the three-minute mark is beneficial as well. If your song is only two minutes long, interesting lyrics can go a long way towards covering up a lack of earworms.

TacocaT shows its knack for lyrics early, on “Bridge to Hawaii”. Just the title is evocative, but the lyrics about a tan, attractive surfer boy ending up in Seattle and trying not to lose it are interesting, as is the way Nokes stretches out the word “HawaiieeEEeeyeeaaah.” More fun is third track “Crimson Wave”, which is a light-hearted romp through menstruation euphemisms. The song is anchored by the chorus, “Surfin’, surfin’ the wave / All the girls are surfin’ the wave / Surfin’ the crimson wave today.” It goes on to make references familiar (“Take our minds off dumb Aunt Flo”), clever (“Wanna listen to the Cramps on my stereo”), and obscure (“There are communists in the summer house”), all to a joyful surf-pop beat. The trumpet-backed “Psychedelic Quiceañera” is nominally about Consuela, who’s “Not going to school today / She’s only half-Mexican anyway,” and her 15th birthday LSD trip. But the track leans hard on the interesting word combination of its title by throwing it into a minor-key chorus that just repeats that title. Since the song is only slightly over two minutes long, it completely gets away with this, especially since it throws in the trumpet intro and outro.

In a handful of places, the band’s lyrics let them down. But another advantage of such short songs is that the less successful songs are easy to write off since they don’t linger. Album opener “You Never Came Back” wistfully regards an ex-boyfriend without much cleverness, but is bailed out by being one of the catchiest songs on the record. “Pocket Full of Primrose” is about anger over a breakup and essentially just lays there for its 117-second running time. “Hey Girl” is an example of the band taking on a familiar trope (guys who catcall) and adding nothing to it, just repeating the clichés while essentially saying “we don’t like this.” Somewhat more successful is “This is Anarchy”, which takes the worn out target of rich college age anarchists without saying anything new or interesting about it. Fortunately, Nokes’ amused vocals blend well with Randall’s equally amused-sounding harmonies to make the song enjoyable despite its tired target.

The band generally does better when its song subjects are more unusual. “Time Pirate” is about dealing with a self-centered bore who rambles on and on, with lines like “time pirate / You rob me of my day / I’d rather walk the plank than hear what else you have to say.” “F.U. #8” is a cathartic rant about a frustratingly inconsistent Metro line in Seattle, and “Alien Girl” is a Randall-sung charmer about, well, an alien girl. The latter flips the script by having its protagonist end up on the girl’s homeworld and acknowledging that he doesn’t understand that experience, either. The song “Snow Day” closes the album out perfectly. It’s a two-minute track that features Nokes complaining about how Seattle can’t handle snow, then slides into a celebration of the deserted streets and the lack of rain and being able to stay home and do nothing. It sums up NVM quite nicely. The music is just catchy enough, the vocal delivery is happy and fun, and the lyrics are wry and amusing.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/178778-tacocat-nvm/