Review Summary: An intensely dark and consuming fusion of jazz and electronic.
As a claustrophobe, the idea of being in a gradually enclosing tunnel terrifies me. You can’t see the end or the beginning of the tunnel, so it’s pitch-black. And in that pitch-black, you’re crawling on your hands and knees, trying to find some glimpse of light, some sign that the tunnel is widening out and you won’t be trapped much longer. But that sign doesn’t come, and the tunnel keeps going on and on, and getting smaller and smaller. And all the while you fear that eventually you’ll be trapped in a section where you’ve gotten yourself stuck and you can’t move because the tunnel is so small. It honestly scares me to think of a situation where I simply can’t move or see through the impenetrable black, and there’s no sign of anything getting better. The thought that I might die after spending days trapped and unmoving, without food or water or stimulation (except for the occasional drip, drip, drip of water from somewhere behind me, taunting and teasing me) invokes feelings that fill me with panic and almost make me start to shiver with fear. It’s a frightening feeling, and one I hope never to experience in real life.
That feeling is what Nerve has fashioned on their latest release, ep4. The EP ranges from jazz-tinged electronic to electronic-tinged jazz, at times pummeling the listener with wave after wave of distorted and thumping sounds and at times pulling back in favor of ambient music that creates an ethereal feeling of paranoia. It’s a combination of schizophrenic jazz drums, synths that alternate between a more comfortable almost-16-bit sound and eerie distortion, subdued bass, and the occasional trumpet. At best, it’s music that invokes that terrifying claustrophobia I fear so much. A lot of the album’s success lies in extremely talented drummer Jojo Mayer, who struts his stuff with syncopated, irregular beats that intentionally jars the listener and creates a bed of distress upon which the other two members of Nerve (bassist and synth player John Davis and utility man Takuya Nakamura) build monumental instrumentations dedicated to the darkness prevalent throughout the EP. This is especially true on standout track “Fauxtek,” where haphazardly ticking drums help develop a bassline that builds up slowly with pounding, ominous repetition, under almost otherworldly layers of synthesizers. The music starts to fade away briefly at around the three and a half minute mark before a squawking trumpet seems to announce the modified reappearance of the first half that cuts devastatingly through the quiet even more potently than before. “Dubby Tubby” sees the band create a slightly different mood, with a very subtly wobbling synth laid carefully upon a shattered beat that brings in just a touch of IDM to give an almost elusive feeling to the piece. The song is spectral and intangible and gives that beautiful sense of a piece that’s so close to being accessible that its mysterious nature makes it all that much more alluring. Meanwhile, “Them” sounds like it would be home at only the most intelligent of raves, with an intense, dark, and distorted synth lead over almost (but not quite) danceable broken drums attacking the ears of the listener over and over again.
The main thing that feels off about ep4 is that at times Nerve seems to be trying too hard to maintain the frightening feeling that the best songs create so well. For example, on “Blues for Wynton” the drums feel too frantic for their own good, the repetitive synth lead doesn’t jive particularly well with the drums and buzzing trumpet, and the song as a whole fails to concoct powerful emotions, instead feeling confusing and just a little bit out of place. However, the EP as a whole is still a fantastic blend of electronic and jazz, a blend that adeptly summons feelings of panic and claustrophobia. It’s definitely a worthwhile listen, especially to those who are scared of what I described earlier. After all, sometimes you have to face your fears in a controlled environment, and this album is a starting point.