Review Summary: Can I get you a glass of what passes for water?
Last spring, Jukebox the Ghost’s Tommy Siegel chanced upon an old book of poetry in a recycling bin near his apartment in Brooklyn. The book was none other than The Cult of Comfort
, a collection of writings by poet Jeremy Schmall, which, despite its title's implied serenity, was packed with darkly humorous observations on post-millennial paranoia and modern-day capitalism. As Siegel flipped through the book, he found himself relating strongly to Schmall's irreverent musings and began penning down new ideas for songs based on their shared threads of thought. With a small clutch of would-be tunes under his arm, Siegel then roped in guitarist Aaron Leeder, keyboardist Dave Cohen, bassist Brett Niederman, and drummer/producer John Thayer, all of whom he had been playing with for almost a decade as part of the art punk outfit Drunken Sufis. It was a wise move – Siegel had always been blessed with a quick wit and a storyteller’s voice, but with the benefit of additional input from several trusted audiosmiths, the new songs began to come to life. Raw edges were licked into shape, melodies were tightened, and the recklessness knob was dialed up to eleven.
The result is the mini album Narc Twain
, a thirty-minute thesis on post-millennial America that is part clear-eyed revelations and part grazed elbows; it’s Fugazi by way of the Pogues, with a hint of modern-day contemporaries Cloud Nothings. Narc Twain
’s opening one-two punch is a veritable tour de force of fist-in-air anthems that’s as captivating as anything Siegel’s ever strung together in his decade-long career, but it also uncovers a more resentful side of him that is rarely seen in his work with Jukebox the Ghost and Drunken Sufis. To be absolutely clear, Siegel is slightly too clean of a vocalist to project the type of full frontal assault that is Dylan Baldi’s or Ian MacKaye’s forte, but he makes up for the lack of sustained high volume by proving to be an artful wordster with a welcome lack of self-policing. Take the insanely catchy, sometimes outright explosive opener "Downhill" for instance, where he intones “Come on kids; gather around, look at yourself in the mirror, and repeat after me – ” before launching into several full-throated yells of “IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE!!!” Yet this aggressive aesthetic somehow serves to magnify the frontman’s narrative abilities – almost as if he’s been waiting to do something like this all his life. "Future Shock" opens with Siegel noting that “It’s the dawn of an era of no decisions/And disposable goods that are made with precision”, but once the crystal ball clears it's a particularly vindictive quote that most elegantly expresses the singer-songwriter’s newfound disdain for American corporatocracy: "Can I get you a glass of what passes for water?/There’s no colour that can mask the shade of shi
t that you’re in." Schmall himself would be proud.
The album’s centerpiece, however, is the monolithic "No Connection", which clocks in at a massive nine-and-a-half minutes and sees Narc Twain electing to trade in their brand of callous poetry for something more abstract. “There’s no c-c-c-c-connection; stop p-p-p-p-paying attention!” sings Siegel at several key intervals, making it obvious that this time around, he and the rest of his band want the focus to be on the accompanying music instead. That claim is not without substance, as the five-piece succeed in proving that they definitely have the music school chops to tangle with the best. Guitarist Leeder’s swerves and dives, in particular, will probably require several repeat listens to fully appreciate the degree of the dexterity on display. The shift in pitch and pace during the song’s piano-driven midsection may be slightly jarring, but Siegel and co. compensate by embarking on a spectacular high voltage sprint in the final third of the number before gradually ebbing away into a slow-burning coda; it's a moment of brilliance that is thoroughly deserving of its place in the epicenter of the record.
Of course, Narc Twain
isn’t without its growing pains. “Same Shi
t”, in particular, spends its entire runtime showing us how it can make puns out of its own title by effectively retreading the dynamics previously established by both “Downhill” and “Future Shock”. Elsewhere, “God Given Right” has its fair share of thrills but is perceptibly shedding weight by the time it reaches its end, which is a bit of a problem, given that the song is barely three minutes long. In short, it’s hard not to expect more, to wish that there Narc Twain
had more width and breadth to offer, particularly given the amount of potential that has just been put on show. That being said, it will be interesting to see where the band chooses to go from here; Siegel may repeatedly claim to be afraid of the future, but on the back of this evidence, he really shouldn't be.