marble stature The Offense we trust! Rural bullshit from the heart of Fox Point, Providence, RI 02906

Thursday, September 07, 2006



I got an email the other day from Insound- one of those weekly sale updates. They are having a “Back to School” trivia quiz with a new question every day for a month (I think), I’ve been trying not to buy anything before my move (in two days) but after shooting 3 for 3, I decided to use my 20% off to pick up an album that I’ve owned on (count ‘em) 3 different occasions; I first picked it up at a show at Oldfields, and then Vertical Phil gave me an extra copy he had on hand, and then this one from Insound… which will hopefully not be lost or stolen; I guess I’ll have to keep it under lock and key.

84 Nash A Secret Reward (Insect Siren/We Want Action, 2003)

I first reviewed A Secret Reward for the Vertical Slum’s inaugural issue (Davy Jones’ Looker) and, at the time, I really was having some mixed emotions about it. I had almost worn out my copy of Band for Hire awaiting the new album, which was highly anticipated by 84 Nash’s growing fan base, so much that rumors of it’s production, recording, title, artwork, release date, and format circulated up and down High Street. I remember one rumor that the album would only be released on vinyl, which made me quite nervous because I didn’t own a turntable at the time. I found myself working at a summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts during the summer of 2002, and I remember calling up my girlfriend to see if there was any development on the new 84 Nash album. No shit. It was a cold rainy day in the early months of 2003, when I first heard A Secret Reward; Jeff Fernengel (painter, driving instructor, noisemaker in the Tree of Snakes, and my pizza brother) called me up on a Saturday morning looking to get some chicken wings and he flashed a burnt copy of the puppy. He gave me permission to walk it to a campus computer lab so that I could secretly burn a copy for myself. I spent the entire walk to Brown Hall flipping through the tracks trying to find my favorite 84 Nash song, and live staple, “Tired of You.” AND IT WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND! I just figured it was a mistake, but sure enough it was saved for their next album, which as of September 7, 2006, has yet to be (and will probably never be) released. A couple of months later I went to an 84 Nash show at Oldfields (about two weeks before their release show) and they had a couple copies of it, down low, for sale at the show. I didn’t have a cent to my name, but Adam Anderson (Tree of Snakes drummer) bought me a copy from merch-man Doug Elliott for something like $8. Why such a long-winded history of this album? I’ll tell you why- because I had to go through years of torment in order to finally hear this, so you should have to wade through some idiot-speak in order to get to the meat. When I reviewed it for the Slum about 6 months later, I wanted to write about it, because there was something so compelling about the album, but at the same time I was a bit disappointed with it, because my expectations were just multiplying in my mind with each rumor and each day. I let Shy Girl borrow it up in Providence and she informed me after hearing it that the loan was permanent, so when Vertical Phil gave me a copy last September, I hadn’t heard it in a while and it seemed to sound a little more natural than I remembered. I lost Phil’s copy back in March of this year, so I decided to pick it up before it becomes as scarce as everything else that they have released. I am so glad that I did, because I think that I have finally gotten over the shell shock of my initial response and I can now, three years wiser, truly enjoy the bizarre album that A Secret Reward is.

The first thing that about A Secret Reward that sets it apart from the two previous 84 Nash albums is the production. It’s as clear as day; instead of relying on the mid-fi mud to thicken up their sound, keyboards were used to fill in the gaps with extra hooks, creating a dense texture to the powerful live sound that they have. Drummer James Brent pounds away with accuracy and abandon, and finds melody within his percussion; a quality not found on previous albums. Kevin Elliott’s vocals are clean enough to hear the lyrics for a change, but still retain the distortion that made his voice so unique and charming in their early stages. And the guitars… bassist JP Hermann and guitarist Andy Hampel are playing so tight, that, like in “Mathematical Park” and “She’s a Warrior,” they seem to trade off lead and rhythm at every hook; creating a intertwining frenzy of buzzing power. I was put off by what I thought was a lack of creativity, but now I think that I just couldn’t quite grapple with the complexity to each of these songs. A Secret Reward is simultaneously their most structured of the three albums but it is also their weirdest. They leave their Guided By Voices comparisons spun out in the dust; and have seemed to bring themselves to a new sound that is all theirs. Possibly the closest thing to this would be The Thermals, but them northwesterners don’t even come close to matching the versatility and explosiveness of the 84 Nash we see here. If you haven’t heard A Secret Reward yet, pick one up from Insound or We Want Action before it’s too late- just be sure to be patient with it, it’s rewards are well worth the effort.

the curse of 84 nash... i too have lost my copy of a secret reward. and also lost my kings of yeah vinyl in my "divorce settlement". i think i'm just gonna have to go to kevins and burn everything.
yeah, better snatch it all up before he loses one. let me know if you need some burned cds sent down to cleveland.
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