(Crash Symbols, 2012)
Crap. I got nothing. No hook. Here I was ready to dazzle you with my amazing wordplay – maybe I was gonna unearth the philosophical heart of Nomadic Firs’ self-titled cassette for Crash Symbols; or maybe I was gonna concoct a fictional account wherein I’d “submit” “myself” to some sort of pseudo-scientific “experiment” and “record” the “results” in column form. Either one would have been a winner. Do they still award Pulitzer Prizes? This would have been it. But here I am, devoid of that hook that’s going to draw you in. Why on earth is that? What could possibly have knocked my imagination off its creative axis? The answer’s actually pretty simple: Ryan Boos made my brain not think good.
[Ed. note: Disclaimer in case this gets confusing – this album is really good, bear with the twists and turns, OK?]
Here’s where I have to tell you – Ryan’s Nomadic Firs project didn’t intentionally have anything to do with my brain cramp – that’s mostly a personal issue that results from lack of coffee or some other such nonsense. His insanely pleasant, catchy album veers my concentration toward its happy place, where puppies and ice cream are abundant and the sky is always blue. It makes me feel like I’m floating in an inner tube on a lake, shades on, sun beating down, breeze blowing. I’m not really inclined to fly off the handle at some perceived slight by “the critical masses” (not our Critical Masses, the general one, with all the hipsters), nor am I bound to gush unapologetically down some free-associative psychological sinkhole where said happy place combines with my childhood nostalgia to form a Voltron of good vibes for everybody and I’m left shooting glowing rays of hope and peace from every pore in my body.
Actually, that last one doesn’t sound so bad.
Look, here’s the gist, and I’ll stop being so wordy about it (for the moment at least): 1. I think Nomadic Firs has some distinct stylistic connections to The Beta Band. 2. Everybody talks about High Fidelity, but my biggest point of reference is how much I can’t stand The Beta Band’s self-titled album, and how it’s turned me off to them for the most part. (They don’t know when to quit – so many bad ideas … “The Beta Band Rap” anybody?) 3. I really, really like Nomadic Firs’ self-titled album. Let’s reconcile this steaming pile of … er, seeming disconnect, shall we?
The similarities between The Beta Band and Nomadic Firs are, fortunately, on the surface. See, I like the idea of The Beta Band (and they do have some good songs, don’t get me wrong), and I like their aesthetic. Which is why it’s easy to get in on Nomadic Firs’ ground floor. Ryan Boos is a master arranger, crafting beats, guitar melodies, and synthetic accoutrements into pop nuggets that hit all the sweet spots, which is why, essentially, I was so flummoxed above. It’s really, really nice stuff, and it’s not inordinately challenging. Not that everything has to be – we need that balance. But, to argue further with myself in my own head, Nomadic Firs serve up such a variety of different approaches within the indie pop spectrum that they’re consistently engaging – see, for example the glistening tropical pop of “Vines” or the jittery clash of “Bitter Pills” for an appropriate cross section. There’s a lot in between too.
Ryan Boos vocally resembles Steve Mason, too. Both have the lackadaisical drawl that sounds like it’s filtered through a thick beard, a laid-back delivery that’s eminently inviting. Boos has an intense ear for melody, though, and that’s what separates him, in my opinion, from a run-of-the-mill vocalist. On “Tellico,” he descends perfectly through a single lyric, rescuing it from B-side status. “Into the Fire” finds him reaching into an equally effective falsetto, and he’s obviously having a great time on the tropical “Cover Bombs,” one of my favorite songs here. But it’s “In the Morning” that gets me every time, perhaps partly due to the fact that its sandwiched between the honest-to-goodness country-rock choogling of “Anytime Clementine” and the chilled-out instrumental “i94,” setting it off as somewhat of a showcase tune. Riding a single bass chord throughout and simple “bum-bum-ch!” drum rhythm, Boos has free reign in the song’s wide-open spaces, with a repeated falsetto repetition of the title, earworm verses, and inspired guitar lines. It’s easily a cousin to some of Tonstartssbandht’s most accessible tracks, and it’s also probably the most Beta Band–esque, which, strangely, also makes it the best song here. Maybe this is what The Beta Band should sound like. Scratch that “maybe,” it is.
But all this comparison – ah, it’s bogus. It’s just a way for me to situate music along a continuum for your sanity and mine. A helpful tool, nothing more. What you really ought to do is sift through this review, pull out those nuggets of info that point to “damn, Nomadic Firs is good!”, and cling to them. There’s a song on here called “Fun” after all, and if that don’t clinch it, I don’t know what does. Oh, and I really like “Generations,” too, I don’t think I mentioned that above.
RIYL: The Beta Band, Animal Collective, Power Animal, Tonstartssbandht