The newly released full length Luxury by North Carolina based indie-electro-art quartet The Nein boasts an uncannily apt title with its relentlessly layered sonic experiments. On their second full length release, The Nein have ensconced themselves in more textures than a cloaked theatre major at the Renaissance Festival, and the formula—if you can call it that—which works in surprising ways.
Their structured ambiance of electric noise is all at once sweet, creepy… and a little but confusing, if not brave. After all, I’m pretty sure I plinked around without apology on that very same toy piano I can hear lightly on “The Future Crumbles” when I was eight years old, except I didn’t make it sound so hot.
The sweetly jangled “Burn Construction” kicks off Luxury in a framework of hopeful melody set behind pleading vocals that sound reminiscent of later Jimmy Eat World tracks, not just due to lyricism (“I was as old as the concept of flame…/I was on fire and I let myself burn”), but delivery as well. The track’s immediate catchiness resists predictability with its sporadic undertones and a series of mixed-in noises dubbed “found sounds” by the band.
Juxtaposing noise against theme in the first track should serve as a clue for expectant listeners not to hold their breath for comforting consistency on this release, evidenced by the following track “Attitude and Mirrors.” The shortest track on the album, “Attitude and Mirrors” contains perhaps the most accessible complexity of mood with its palpable turns and counterturns, moving from eerie tinny-ness into the hardened guitar and keyboard chords of electroclash—and then it stops.
Teasing us with uncommonly poppy followed by peacefully clash, The Nein lopes toward inoffensive avant-garde art-noise for a four-song stretch before plunging into “Ennio,” their spaghetti-indie homage to spaghetti-soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone. Although never approaching the bizarrely painful noise that many other art-punk bands delve into as a specialized form of compositional torture for their fans that are artsy enough to get it, “Ennio” provides a welcome respite from having to think about the music in order to enjoy it, and just lets you enjoy it.
Cresting from the catchy to the artfully noisy, and then back to the catchy, The Nein—whether consciously or not—constructed an album that works against the laws of vinyl, where you place your most listenable cuts in the middle of a track listing to coax people into flipping over the record. If Luxury were on vinyl, would it get flipped over? On iTunes, I’ll gladly let it play straight through. And judging from the trickling laughter on “A Landscape,” maybe The Nein already suspected as much. What The Nein lacks in structure, they make up for in haunting background noise, leaving us with an interesting pastiche of appreciable, luxurious songwriting.