I don't generally hear much stuff that's coming out of Nebraska so Unread Records's relocation to Omaha is a damn good thing for me. If it weren't for the move I might have never heard this killer tape by David Kenneth Nance that features, among other things, one of the best songs of the year.
Let's Argue appears to be a total bedroom/basement concoction--Nance plays all the instruments ("various synths, guitars, drums and other broken shit,") writes and sings the songs etc.--but what I really love is this tape sounds like it was made by a band. It often sounds like some friends cranking it up and going to town in one of their subterranean dwellings.
"Letters 1&2" begins with a sample of Dolly Parton reading letters she sent to her parents over guitar drones and harmonica exhalations until launching into a 50s rock & roll throwback ditty imbued with the nihilistic vibe of 80s punk. Sets the tone for sure. A messy synth interlude bridges the gap into the lonesome "Joanie." Slowly cycling guitar arpeggios ease the track forward eventually leading to the waltzing chorus of "Joanie hold on/It won't be long/Before you can finally rest your head/Joanie stay strong/The church is wrong/Confession is giving in." Despite the acoustic jangle, the track sounds surprisingly raw and aggressive due to Nance's scaled-back snarl and fizzy production values.
"Who Eats Who Now?" is a jagged, rudimentary punk track featuring a percussive three-chord slash and a seriously great dueling guitar riff that makes its appearance halfway through. Nance's occasionally lethargic, low drawl provides an interesting counterpoint to the insect-swarm guitar and cymbal sizzle. The mostly acoustic ballad "Nebraska Plains" is backed with a swirling synth and features a weird auto-wah guitar solo as well. It's a gentle, sardonic pro-Nebraska ballad ("When nuclear war first starts in NYC and when San Francisco lies in the sea/You'll know you never should have laughed at me") in which Nance takes shots at the Rockie mountains, tall buildings, subway trains and the ocean while professing his preference for Nebraska's plains. If he didn't say "shit" in the song the Nebraska tourism office would snap it right up.
The intertwined guitar melodies that introduce "In Her Kingdom" are reminiscent of 60s jangle-pop via 90s college rock and it's a pretty nice piece of work. The track shifts into a sort of Velvets-style rev up before hitting the chorus once more and then launching into a memorable closing refrain of "In my kingdom of shit."
The tape slips into a fantastic, spacey keyboard interlude that, in turn, slips into a killer bass riff that just screams "shit is about to go down." "Leather in the Box" is one of the best songs I've heard all year, simply love the motherfucker. The aforementioned bass provides a chunky line that's alternately ominous and catchy but, even more importantly, the guitar provides a simple but thoroughly unnerving melody that wormed its way deep into my skull on first impact. They form the perfect backing track for Nance's portrait of the life of a gimp. He sings: "Yeah, I'm sick of these games where my ass is the prize/Yeah, I'm naked on the floor and they beat me til I die/Well, no safety words for me, at least not tonight." You can smell the leather. Sealed by the rollicking chorus of "I'm just a gimp at night/Locked up so tight/No need to fight/I'm just a gimp at night" Nance has penned one of the great S&M-themed rock & roll songs in history. Overall its sound fits somewhere between The Country Teasers and The Velvet Underground--and not just because of "Venus in Furs."
"The Manger," which closes the tape, is another great track. Nance, sounding like a midwestern Leonard Cohen, tells his version of the life of Christ; beginning with the teenage years. While maybe not the "loudest" song, it is the most bombastic and pushes the meter further into the red than any other song on the cassette.
Unread is doing its thing providing great lo-fi pop, rock and folk gems and there's a bit of all that on this tape. Nance is a really good songwriter and this album has grown on me with each successive listen. He navigates a variety of styles, which never seem out of place next to each other, culminating in a particularly cohesive set of songs. On top of that, Nance knows how to record and produce his shit perfectly--there's exactly the right dose of scuzz on each track. Dude's the total package. Definitely lend an ear to this. Available from Unread