- SPIN Rating:8 of 10
Label: Other Music
Brooklyn doesn't always breed bands like Nude Beach anymore — bands without DJ nights or vintage synth gear or famous friends or food blogs. But though this power trio(!) calls the big borough home, BK didn't breed them. No, Chuck, Ryan, and Jimmy are Long Island boys, children of a village called Northport, the kind of place that only winds up on the news when enough of its manhole covers are jacked for scrap to make it a national concern. And the kind of place that held onto its Reagan-era heartland rock well into the Clinton age. Which is to say, through the formative years of Misters Betz, Naideau, and Shelto, respectively. The three played Rancid-inspired punk together as teens, but after recording a fun but messy self-titled tape in 2008, they've returned with II, an album that excises the oi! in favor of those other influences, of songs with easy-rolling guitar solos and keywords like "baby," "radio," and "dreams."
This isn't a put-on, but it is tribute. These guys owe much of their identity to Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen — an increasingly common look, but not necessarily a bad one. In this seen-it-all, post-everything musical era, straightforward rock'n'roll is a revelation. Dudes brave enough to punch up the dad-rock vinyl stacks lurking in the attic are brave dudes indeed — shouts to Gaslight Anthem (yecch!) and Japandroids (yay!) — and a song like II's "Some Kinda Love" is an accomplishment any way you slice its genealogy. The rootsy jangler explodes out of the gate with a sturdy bass line and smashing tambourine, giving up a little open homage to "Dancing in the Dark" before a wordless middle third stretched taut by the tension of Betz's scruffily earnest singing on either end. And "Love Can't Wait" is a Heartbreakers track through and through, husky and shuffling, borrowing language from someone else's generation: "About the time I turned 16 / I lighted out to make real a dream."
The other major part of II's heritage comes from across the pond, but roughly the same swath of time. As with Dr. Dog's initial panoply of interesting, seemingly unrelated '60s pop, Nude Beach borrow from disparate sounds that play well together in hindsight. Specifically, they bring in Elvis Costello and the Jam — new wave that represented punk's first real flirtations with pop. The trio's hardcore-trained rhythm section was built for this with Naideau's tight drums and Shelto's expressive bass offering teeth, grit, energy, and speed as needed. "Cathedral Echoes" is athletic in its jittery poppiness, but the far slower "You Make It So Easy" works too, with Attractions-style keys bubbling up from below. Betz also does an ace impression of the OG Napoleon Dynamite on "Walkin' Down My Street," pinching the back of his throat to shout, then coo, "I don't care if you see me cry or bleed / I just need you, baby."
But this is no period exercise. Confession. Yearning. Obsession. Over-sharing. These are your tipoffs that this band wasn't founded in 1977. For the Heartland Heroes, politics was inclusive and humanistic; for punk's Angry Young Men, it was reactive and intellectual. But Betz's politics are utterly personal. There's neither metaphor nor double entendre here — just pained solipsisms about crying himself to sleep because he can't get the girl or find his station. One of II's best songs is its kinetically blessed opener, "Radio," whose chorus finds our guy changing the station to get away from a sad song he doesn't want to hear; he censors the outside world because he can't cope, whereas Costello's "Radio Radio" had the nuts to blast broadcasters who'd dare to censor him over a few bucks. And unlike the Boss, Betz doesn't invite us into his world — he only opens up his addled head, which, barring experimental surgery, is a bit too close to his broken heart.
The thing is, a little self-consciousness goes a long way, and each of Nude Beach's forefathers knew this. American girls. Modern worlds. Blue jeans. Bandanas. Buddy Holly specs. Fussing with the zeitgeist isn't evil. It's not all Lana Del Rey or the highway, and there's nothing more noble in appropriating sounds versus images or other affectations. In other words, there's gotta be something between the hyper-personal lyrical naval-gazing of II and the cynical signposting of Gaslight's Handwritten. Thankfully, and unlike those Jersey Boys, Nude Beach turn their hero worship into something good: an exciting, impassioned, fuzzed-up, and smartly sticky album that plants a flag for some great forgotten sounds and practically screams promise for better glory days to come. Of course, for Chuck, Ryan, and Jimmy, that will mean getting out of the garage and into the world. Welcome to the working week, boys. I know it don't thrill you, but I doubt it'll kill you. Here's hoping it just makes you stronger.