Music » Record Review

The Nein's We Get Lost

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The title's not a joke: In the mid '00s, Triangle art rockers The Nein looked set to establish themselves as a standard-bearing local band. But after releasing their 2007 sophomore LP, Luxury, they seemed to fall off the face of the earth. We Get Lost, their first release in six years, is technically not even a new EP, as its Bandcamp page carefully disclaims. Instead, it collects the unreleased material written and recorded right after Luxury: seven stripped-down songs that verge on demo quality, for the price of five bucks. Rather than a reintroduction or a resolution, it's a "To Be Continued?" for an act whose momentum, though it's fizzled, does not feel irrevocably lost.

Bassist Casey Burns, singer-guitarist Finn Cohen and drummer Robert Biggers formed The Nein when the latter two were fresh out of The White Octave, a popular turn-of-the-millennium emo-punk band that packed Chapel Hill nightclubs and released albums on notable post-hardcore labels Deep Elm and Initial. At the time, there was a thriving musical connection between Omaha and the Triangle, thanks to transplants such as White Octave leader Steve Pedersen (formerly of Cursive) and Matt Oberst (Bright Eyes' brother), whose band Sorry About Dresden mined the gap vacated by Archers of Loaf.

While this was The Nein's milieu, they quickly differentiated themselves from it, keeping some of that anthemic spirit but wrapping it around skeletal, noisy post-punk. The Nein signed with Canadian label Sonic Unyon to release their self-titled, well-reviewed debut EP in 2004. It was a good time to be in a band that recalled Wire, PiL and Scritti Politti, albeit right at the end of that trend curve. By the time debut LP Wrath of Circuits came out the following year, critical exhaustion with "angular" music (in the parlance of the day) had set in, as a rather unduly exasperated Pitchfork review attested.

But The Nein were certainly at the less ingratiating end of the spectrum, with a circuit-bending experiment for every disco backbeat and razor-sharp chord. Post-punk revival this was, but Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party it wasn't. Not that pop was absent from the mix: At their most melodic, The Nein sounded like Gang of Four meeting the Zombies, whom they covered on 2006's Transitionalisms EP—at least before samplerist Dale Flattum (formerly of Steel Pole Bathtub) replaced bassist Burns on 2007's Luxury. A bold and sometimes ingenious LP, it also found the band getting a bit lost in the studio, with Flattum cluttering the twisting arrangements as often as augmenting them. That's when Cohen and Biggers hit reset, scaling down to a power trio with Josh Carpenter. They wrote the back-to-basics songs on We Get Lost.

The home-recorded We Get Lost strips away most electronic apparati, except on "Liza Manelli," a chasm of darkwave that hints at The Nein's sound-sculptural DNA with the sound of an opening beer can slipped into the beat. Crude, galloping percussion and queasy rock guitar knit together songs that are all over the place stylistically. The elusive vocal harmonies and sneakily infectious chorus of "Soundgardenz" come embedded in chugging, swelling guitar and cymbals, while "Santos" is tropically stormy in the manner of Animal Collective's Campfire Songs. "Hecho en Mexico" could be a nod to Randy Newman.

The overall approach is blurry, but the songs are individually compelling, with the exception of "In the Black," an awkwardly fitted Frankenstein of snarling Billy Bragg-like folk and heavy-frequency noise rock. If The Nein were able to focus some of this simplicity and directness in a more detailed, polished studio recording, they might find this to be an ideal moment for such rococo electronic art rock.

Label: (self-released)

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