Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nemo Joe - Still Spinnin'

Sometime back, a number of months ago really, I wrote up a review on a progressively tinged rock band from Minnesota called Oceans. Though filled with many memorable moments, the element that sticks in my head the most is the warm as a lover’s bosom bass tones. I mean, the low end on that disc made everyday feel like summer. So, when word came across the Ripple News Wire that the bassist from Oceans was working on another musical project called Nemo Joe, I got down right excited. And then I waited . . . and waited . . . and patiently waited some more, until postman Sal with sweat on his brow, clambered up the steps to our office and deposited the album on my desk. I’m not certain why Sal keeps this route. We’ve yet to give the guy a Christmas card as a gesture of appreciation for his years of service. I hope the dude doesn’t go all axe wielding and maniacal on us . . . mental note: Purchase Sal a fruit basket.

Once again, I digress.

Still Spinnin’ from Nemo Joe is a fairly straight up rock album, featuring some elements of heavy distortion leaning in the way of 90’s era grunge. I had expected Nemo Joe to have more of a prog-rock thing going on, probably because of the bassists association with Oceans. But, it turns out that most of the songs are shorter and more concise, in a standard rock n’ roll vibe, dealing less with musical virtuosity and more with the craft of catchy songwriting. There aren’t any songs dealing with heavy subject matter like foreign wars, human rights, drug addiction or suicide. These songs are in the classical rock n’ roll sense of having fun while giving the listener glimpses of the struggle of simply living and heartache through personal tales, sometimes told in a humorous or cleaver manner.

“Fear” kicks off the disc with a full scale ballsy rocker with tight breaks and a great amount of musical dynamics. First off, the main riff running through the song is compelling in its simplicity, once again showing that a musician doesn’t need the most technically elaborate to drop a bad ass riff. It’s actually a very zen philosophy. Beauty is within the simplicity. And here, we see that less is more. The space around the notes allows the sound to reverberate longer, carry deeper tone, and opens the air for all of the instruments to shine together. Very possibly the heaviest song on the disc, “Fear” borders on the spectrum of metal. Listening to this track through big speakers is a must! There’s a lot more going on in the music than one might hear in a more casual listen. The bass work of Paul Hansen is monstrous, stuffing great fills into the tightest of nooks; guitarist Mark Johnston lays down a freakish sounding wave of guitar textures for a solo, and drummer Rik Wenzel acts as the train engineer . . . shoveling scope after heaping scoop of coal on the raging fire to propel this beast through the soul.

“7th Heaven” opens with a heavy as lead low end groove. The overall sound of the song takes me back to the mid 90’s and post grunge sounds that filled the airwaves. Dissonant growls of distorted guitars over walls of rhythm make up the core of the song, but it’s the vocal performance that suddenly shifts my focus from my shoes to the world around me. The song in infused with a healthy dose of fun. It bounces and grooves, keeping the mind off of the tumultuous surroundings and focused more on smiling. Listen to the guitars, not so much in their role of rhythm, but more in the way of the textural melodies that Johnston sprinkles throughout the track.

“Throw Away” is pure enjoyment! Not only does Nemo Joe provide a great rockin’ soundtrack, but the lyrics are well written, describing a symbolic love being left to rot in a trash can. This is as great a rock n’ roll song as there is! It’s upbeat, well crafted, has great instrumentation running through it, and the lyrics are sold through a compelling vocal performance. The break at the midpoint is awesome . . . as the guitars have an almost psychedelic quality to them, swirling around the open spaces and casting a hazy shade over the music. Also, listen to how tight these guys get once the guitars return to a more rhythmic role, crashing in time with the off kilter groove of the rhythm section. It’s refreshing to hear rock played with such gusto. “Throw Away” feels immediate and comes across in this almost manic sense where the singer’s frustration becomes real. And then, the acceptance of having his love thrown away sets in and he gets on with his life. Love it!

Listening to Still Spinnin’ was just what the doctor ordered. The album took me out of the place of listening to the intricate details and cosmic dynamics of a lot of the music I had been listening to, and giving me something that was maybe a little less serious, less precise. Nemo Joe is a throwback, in a lot of ways, to the fun time spirit of rock music in the 50’s. Though I never felt like I was rockin’ around the clock, I did feel like I had to watch out for Runaround Sue. Nemo Joe provide a great selection of songs that deal with the emotional rollercoaster of love and relationships, in most cases, in a lighthearted fashion. There are no super heavy goth-y moments where the pain was so bad that I wanted to hide from the sun, garb myself in black, start wearing make-up, and then contemplate my own demise. Still Spinnin’ is made up of a more adult, more realistic idea that love comes and goes, and we might as well enjoy it while we can and get on with our lives. Musically, the album is too the point, with only a few songs breaching the four minute mark. I like that. Clean, simple, get in, get out, no one gets hurt. And ultimately, since the songs are of a shorter nature, it’s easier to go back and listen to them time after time without having to commit to a massive build up. Joe may be an average name, but Nemo Joe . . . well, there’s nothing average about these guys. - Pope JTE

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