These Go To Eleven
Big dumb guitar riffs can be lazy. They can equate to energy as a substitute for vision, sheer noise employed to mask inartful songwriting, sickly sweet icing on a mundane cake. For as long as rock 'n' roll has existed, someone has always been willing to simply turn up the volume knob as an answer to a question that no one was asking, and for just as long certain cadres of fans have been willing to simply admire the product as an end in and of itself: the riffage becoming the reason for the song, and not the other way around.
Once in a great while, and much less often now than has been the case in previous eras, a record comes along with big dumb riffs that are indisputably in service of a milieu. When these hounds are unleashed in support of songs that have real meaning and relatablilty a certain kind of transfiguration happens, one that turns songs that are simply loud into ones that are bold. Omaha's David Nance Group has taken this idea and run with it, fitting since their creative DNA seems to be equal parts Dinosaur Jr. and Crazy Horse with a smattering of stoner rock bravado thrown in for good measure. In Peaced and Slightly Pulverized they have created an LP that seems to exist completely inside that magical moment when a loud noise takes you by surprise but then you feel yourself settle into it. The credits take care to point out that its recording was completed over the course of two days (!) but one could be forgiven for wondering why it took so long after coming away from the album's palpable mix of urgency and immediacy that belies how fully-formed the songs are.
Nowhere is this more true than on the centerpiece "Amethyst", which begins slowly like a defeated walk through swampy marshland. Rhythm and lead guitars call out to one another through a dense fog of distortion through the first section, paving the way for vocals to come in from a cavernous distance. The lyrics are a bit snide ("Nice to see your on your own now, looks like you're better off!"), but the frenetic soloing that ensues lends some air of justification for the lashing out. Through several more minutes the rhythmic structure of the song stays roughly the same while the guitar caterwauls into the sky, wrecked and bereft, all before the ending sees the guitar drone into distant feedback, a narrator unable to keep going. This is rock music in the key of desperation, capable of providing a commiserative salve in the way that only truly great art can.
Elsewhere "In Her Kingdom" plays like a admiring ode to a powerful woman before tipping its hand at the end and making its title a punchline that might be one of the best delayed payoffs ever. "When I Saw You Last Night" devolves into a rager of the best kind: solid bass and drums keeping a foundation while guitars whine over the top like air-raid sirens. Album closer "Prophet's Profit" takes some cues from the Doors with an elegantly swinging drum beat, vocals that echo madly, and an outrageous saxophone figure that competes with the guitars for dominance over the tracks final third.
Beyond technical mastery and attention-seeking behavior, DNG reminds us on Peaced that guitar riffs are more than a gimmick - they are the approximation of crying out in the wilderness. The lack of good-mannered delicacy is all a part of the point: when one is alone in the desert, or lost in a forest, yelling out may be the only chance they have for survival. Similarly, a person who feels alone in their emotions may feel the need to be loud as a way to make themselves heard - not just listened to, but fully heard - and a guitar is arguably the perfect device to channel that desire.
Peaced and Slightly Pulverized is a shot across the bow of timidity, a call to arms for those who know that heady genre music and riff-heavy rock are not mutually exclusive things. David Nance and his group are the proverbial bull, we are the china shop. And in no way is that a bad thing.