Nucular Aminals, Naomi Punk and Parquet Courts at Bunk Bar, January 18

Another night and another rare show at the Bunk Bar. I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while, ever since a Captured Tracks compilation turned me on to a Naomi Punk song. To my great embarrassment (SRSLY, how do you call yourself a journalist, again, Mr. Feck?) I was not familiar with either of the bands bookending Naomi Punk’s time slot The bliss of being the uncarved block!…Whoa, I think I just called myself a piece of Pu.  Anyhow, I love having untainted (::snicker::) opinions about what I’m seeing.

Nucular Aminals is a 4 piece with an album out on K Records. The band is made up of a singer on guitar, a bassist, a lady on keys & a drummer, who all offer a really raga-influenced take on garage rock, with the ’60s influence really coming through most strongly in the organist’s sound, layered under in the mix, but gently guiding the songs to unique places. That raga tinge also permeates every song, giving a distinctively Cure-esque “Killing An Arab” sound to every song, making me wonder “What if Orca Team (1) left the beach, picked up a Farfisa and decided to take a Saudi Arabian desert safari while reading Camus?”. The lead singer/guitarist has his (fully functional) mic stand leveled at a height so low he sings to it in a hunched-over stoop.  I can only assume this is some sort of aesthetic choice since it looks so uncomfortable & it seems hard to imagine a practical application. It also seems to give the slight affect of a turtle. This endearing quirk aside, they play really effectively inside of this low, candlelit mood, that seems pretty consistent, until – actually just this very moment as I type this on my cell phone notepad – when an understated song showcases a middle part that breaks open and away, with the keys running a crazy pattern over a more open & hard hitting drum sound & the guitars go sprawling out in some suddenly unexpected directions before settling back in to the groove that this song began with.(4th to last song).

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The 2nd to last one begins with a much jumpier opening, though in a similar mood as the rest of the set. The space has really filled out, making this far & away the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at a Bunk show (though I wasn’t here for Quasi on NYE, which I imagine was pretty much like if The Clash had to make an album out of it they’d call it “Sardineista!”).  I’d been struggling to remember why Nucular Aminals (wow do I have to work hard to intentionally misspell that as per the band’s actual name) sounded so familiar; then it dawned on me: it’s because they opened for Ty Segall at that show I got locked out of due to my own stupid lack of planning & patience.  Caught the Woolen Men at the Know & later (the google-unfriendly-but-awesome) Thanks and Pony Village at the Tonic that night instead, so it could have been worse.  May try to transcribe some handwritten notes onto this site from those shows sometime in the future should the spirit move me.  Anyhow,  glad I got to catch Nucular Aminals this time out; I’ll be certain to see them again, seeing as they are:
A) Portland-based
B) Awesome!

Naomi Punk are up next & are the band I’m here to see (I know nothing about Parquet Courts & I’m just gonna say “fuck it” & be that dude looking up things written about the band at the show since I’m not drinking & the idea of trying to shout one-liners at people above the din in this room seems about as untenable as a Smiths reunion – c’mon, we all KNOW it ain’t gonna happen. There’s better chance of a Ramones reunion & I say that with all the love in the world for that band…both of ’em) on the awesome aforementioned Captured Tracks label that’s been the home of many of my favorite recent releases.

I’d only heard a few songs from the record & hadn’t read anything about them so was a bit surprised to see that this much sound is coming from what is only a 3-piece, with no bass!

1st song opens w/ a great opening & percussive jump. The frantic-yet-totally-controlled pace of the drummer really steals the opening track.

As mentioned earlier, I’m more than a bit surprised to hear sound this full and heavy coming from a Danlectro & a Jaguar (or is it a Mustang? A Jagstang? I’ve somehow lost the guitar-geek ability to tell the difference. Shame!)
2nd song continues the angular, pulsing rhythm yet without the flourishes from the drums the last track had. Vox are really low in the mix.

The feel and pacing almost gives the band an indie-sludge feel (for lack of a better available descriptor), yet without the overwhelming distortion or cookie monster vocals or even the screamed hardcore influence in sludge of say a Red Fang. The vocals seem to have more in common w/ a far-less-whiney Perry Farell circa Janes at their best (in sound only), but run through some reverby effects (maybe a chorus pedal with the levels cranked and maybe a bit of flange?) with a truly stunning result.  I wished the voice levels were higher in the mix; with all the effects on them, the oblique mood wouldn’t be lost at all if this were to happen.

The lead singer is running some interesting loop-type things in between each song, things like answering machine messages from friends in Seattle watching Twin Peaks to theramin-y type white noise so there is no silence in between songs, but no attempt to engage the crowd w/ any kind of “clever chatter” or anything like that. I don’t know if it was born out of a type of shyness or an austere aesthetic decision, but whatever the reason, it is a nice change-of-pace, as the crowd harmlessly heckles the band, like when a band member takes off a sweater “Yeah, take it off!” or during the phone call “Yeah, pick up the phone!”, The band respond with the same indifference as if they had been yelling at a TV set.

Then the singer awkwardly gives the gratuitous “thanks to the other bands” speech before launching into the set-closer, making the answer to my previous query all-too-clear. They’re not too comfortable in front of a large crowd, but that will change quickly enough. They’ll be seeing a lot of large crowds, since the size will be commensurate with the ample talent they’ve got on display.

Can’t tell if the dude w/ the Danlectro is wearing a mullet or just has his hair in the front pushed to the side in a way that just gives that effect, but either way it’s cracking me up a little. But not in a bad way, of course. Nice to see a streak of humor in this band that seems so all-business in their approach, sonic & otherwise. Last song begins w/ the heaviest eruption yet, before finding its way into the same sludge-y beat & tempo that seemed to be driving most of the show. There’s something different about the energy here as the singer demands, “I wanna rip it out…who’s got a problem now…”

Didn’t realize they were from Olympia. (Holy shit it is a *REAL* mullet. That shoulda tipped me off, that they’re Olympian, innit?)

Next up are Parquet Court who I’m told are from NYC.

4 piece, 2 guits & a bass.  Sounds like there’s keys too, but I can’t see ’em.  Nope, just a guitarist trying out a funky effects pedal.

They’ve got a kinda scattered sound, but in a good way.  There’s this feeling as if a particularly clever octopus is trying to hold back 25 holes in a damn with the 8 tentacles it’s got & despite the frantic efforts to stem the tide, the sound like water pours through wildly and unpredictably.  I’m kinda getting a bit of a Pavement-w/-actual-intensity vibe. One singer seems to be splitting the difference between David Byrne, Gordon Gano, Jonathan Richman, Fred Schneider & The Big Bopper, except, you know, saying things like “Socrates died in the fucking gutter!”.  Can’t quite picture any of that lot saying that, can you?  Well maybe Malkmus might but without the sprawling sincerity of the delivery that this singer provides.

It seems like most of the crowd is like me, having either just heard the name of the band or of the buzz built up around them, since nearly everyone in the room seemed to fall for the several penultimate-sounding song stops in the middle of “Borrowed Time”, clapping & whooping as if the song were over. Sike!

When I get a chance, I’m certain to pick up “Light Up Gold” on vinyl (from their own record label Dull Tools) & will listen to it at my leisure in a setting more conducive to picking up what they were saying.  Very clearly the band is strong on lyrics that were beyond my capacity to decipher at the time.  It’s a bit of a charming story the band has, being that rare exception: a group of kids that move from a small town (Beaumont, Texas) to New York to “pursue their art” & then actually go AHEAD AND DO IT (and without the attendant pretension that you might expect from that trope) instead of getting stuck and falling down the NYC rabbit hole with all of its countless distractions.  In a way, these guys are living out the movie every musician ever dreamed up for themselves, yet are doing it without any of the camp; with eyes wide open about all the various tragedies & frustrations of existence & yet still managing to muck through with aplomb and somehow have a good time with it all.  The tallest of orders, executed seemingly effortlessly.

As awesome as the band was, the size of the crowd, the close quarters & the general buffoonery of a few people who may have shown up with a bit too much pre-func in ’em made me decide to hightail it, after getting about 7 or 8 songs in, to Slabtown to go catch the end of Chicago’s Population & their high-energy dark post-punk reminiscent of much of the best & darkest parts of Joy Division & The Fall. I’m incredibly glad I did catch what I was able to & then pick up a 7″ & chat with the band a bit afterwards.  No filter on this shot, it just turned out this way:

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More music to be seen tonight!  I love this city!

-Michael Feck

1 Have you guys seen this?  There’s no way that’s not a joke, right?  I laughed my way through it, then wanted to hug everyone involved.

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