A seismic moment occurred in the late sixties when power trios rejected the two-guitar model made standard by the Beatles and eliminated one guitar. Taking away the bass yields an even more primal concoction, yet, as bands like the White Stripes, Black Keys, and the Kills have proven, that blunt guitar-and-drums essence hasn't lost its currency.
Naked Naps, the Raleigh duo of guitarist/vocalist Catie Yerkes and drummer Christopher Grubbs*, trades in that same alchemy. On last year's Middle, the band evinced a ragged indie rock feel in songs that wore nineties influences on their sleeve while suggesting a weirdness and a worldview of their own. On the new Year of the Chump, the group doesn't exactly abandon those aspects, but adds to the mix a turgid complexity that feels as influenced by prog rock as by the Pixies. Whereas tunes on Middle might veer off but find their way back to the next verse in relatively predictable fashion, these tracks often go in several unexpected places in their short run times, almost as if determined to repeat as few riffs as possible.
The record is urgent and a bit dissonant, but embellishments like the stately piano touches on "Frank Lloyd Wright Designed the Carport" add piquant counterpoint. The songs push and pull rather than fall into comfortable cadences, with Yerkes's urgent, unnerving vocals the focal point between thick-textured guitar-and-drum conversations. The group's continued penchant for drily humorous song titles, like the arresting opening track, "Toyota Prius the Silent Killer," gives the impression of lightheartedness. Even so, an uncompromising attack, a refusal to simply chug along conventionally, persists.
What are they saying with punning titles that don't surface in the songs? It's hard to tell. But Naked Naps don't want to make you dance, and they don't want to please you with pop stuff; mostly they want you to pay attention. And it's hard not to.
*This review originally misidentified the drummer of Naked Naps. Christopher Grubbs, not Jon Meier, is the band's drummer.