When John Meier first joined singer and guitarist Catie Yerkes to help give flesh to the songs she'd been writing in her bedroom at the house-show venue the Mattress Fort, he had only recently switched from guitar to drums. The two developed their voices together as the duo Naked Naps. The duo's early demos offered an idiosyncratic, sharp, rough take on indie rock basics. Yerkes' guitar volleyed angular melodies against his nimble rhythms.
As the band grew in confidence and experience, moving from house parties to proper venues, the early, scuzz-fried Archers of Loaf vibe became bigger and bolder. Likewise, Yerkes' evocative, plainspoken lyrical style grew more potent, suggesting deeper stories between her succinct lines. The bright, angular and smart The Middle is that process's end result.
Making the most of a spartan setup, Yerkes and Meier create a turbulent, driving backdrop of tight drum hits and taut riffs, meant to complement her dynamic vocals by countering them. As she warbles an emotive vibrato or sneers through sardonic phrases, the arrangements push onward, keeping steady momentum and energy behind musings on failed relationships and anxious self-examination.
During "Terry Gilliam Day Dream," Yerkes sings to a less-than-ideal lover, "I'm not into settling/I'll never be into you/You're just convenient/But it won't be the same when this year's through." Amid the spiraling riff and emo nods of "Jack Johnson, Heavyweight Champion of the World," she evokes the boxer's stance, singing: "I wore you down/I wore you out/ The left one always creeps in/The right one carries the weight." The music adds muscle to those excitable nerves.
Naked Naps' contemporaries—Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Waxahatchee—evoke '90s indie rock by nodding to grunge or pop-punk. But Naked Naps suggest both Cap'n Jazz's hyperactive arrangements and K Records' mix of confidence and simplicity. These songs can seem difficult, but they are ultimately beguiling. More than ever, on The Middle, Naked Naps' music lives up to its name, with urgent pop that balances intimacy, urgency and innocence.