At this geographic remove (meaning Missoula, Mont.) it seems like of all the music currently seeping out of Chicago in the past few years, good old-fashioned two-fisted beer-drinking rock is what’s been most noticeably absent. There’s been no shortage of electronic music and apoplectic jazz from Tortoise or any of the 9 billion bands saxophonist Ken Vandermark is mixed up with, likewise no lack of noise from post-everything nihilists like 1000 Dying Rats and the Flying Luttenbachers. Seems there’s even a band called the Butchershop Quartet playing a guitar version of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring around town to modest acclaim. Obviously, the Hog Butcher of the World is still crowded with bands doing their own thing.
But with the joyful racket of totally up-your-butt bands like the Jesus Lizard and Tar five and 10 years gone by now, rock proper seems to have generally passed into the grubby hands of dismantlers like US Maple and Shellac. I always hate it when music writers describe a sound as “angular,” but that’s what Chicago seems to have a lot of these days—angular rock and pointy electronics, as huggable as a sheaf of busted umbrellas in a crumpled-up old grocery bag. I miss the Rubenesque contours of Chicago rock the way the good Lord intended. So I’ve been waiting, though I didn’t know it until I heard it, for a long time to get at a band like the Nerves.
Not that you’re going to hear selections from the trio’s third album, World of Gold, on a beer commercial or blasting through the PA at a Cubs game anytime soon. They’re not that kind of bluesy rock, not the party-all-night kind of feel-good fodder. This is rock for when the Cubs lose and you’re stuck in a scary part of town with dim light and music leaking out of a doorway up ahead. A seedy place to rinse your cares away in someone else’s romantic torment. Rock with just the right feel-bad streak to it. But the Nerves aren’t going to harsh on your good time, either. At their most fired-up, they’ve got a swagger that’s too cool for school, the prowl of sweaty Detroit rock ’68 to ’71 and yowling vocals that recall some of the Windy Apple’s finest.
“10 Feet Tall” kicks the album off with the crawling king snake sound and singer/guitarist Rob Datum’s spooky croon, something like Talking Heads’ David Byrne coaxing Jim Morrison’s lizard mojo right out of the grave. “Behind the Trees,” the third track on the album (and the key to many a good album, you know, is the third song) ratchets the intensity up another notch still. The trio—Datum, bassist Seth Skundrick, and drummer Elliot Dicks—is augmented here by a haunting vibraphone that sounds like a skeleton clacking in the breeze on the score of an old silent movie while the three main Nerves wind up a cathartic four-minute climax.
The Nerves keep it dirty and honest, and that’s where it’s at. Righteous trash.