FLAC / Lossless / WEB
YEAR… June 24, 2016
GENRE…alternative, folk, indie, pop, rock
For being one of indie-rock’s most clearly defined personalities, Jenny Lewis does her best not to be pinned down. In the decade or so since she lost interest in Rilo Kiley, Lewis has bounded from one project to the next, chasing whims, collecting collaborators, and generally trying on new hats with no F**k s given about whether they fit or not. And although she’s always given the impression of being an open book, writing with apparent candor about her desires, convictions, and complete and utter inability to escape her own head, she’s made it increasingly clear that no single album offers a complete self-portrait. As she puts it on the self-titled debut from her latest side project Nice As F**k , “If you want to know who I am, ask any one of my friends.”
Her new band teams her with Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster and the Like’s Tennessee Thomas (whose father Pete Thomas drums for Lewis’s pal Elvis Costello and played on Acid Tongue), and their debut is the most low-stakes album she has ever been a part of—which is saying something, considering she made a Jenny & Johnny record. Everything about the album seems designed to lower expectations, from its surprise release to its no-frills cover art. The group doesn’t have a publicist, which is virtually unheard of for a working band with a new album to promote in 2016, and the closest they’ve come to doing press is sharing a facetious band bio from Father John Misty that was more about satirizing the form than talking up the group. Really, the only way the band could have set expectations any lower for the record is if they offered $5 Subway gift cards in exchange for downloading it.
They were wise not to oversell it. This is a decidedly minor work, just nine songs in 26 minutes, and they all stick to the same skeletal template: Lewis sings over some vaguely dubby post-punk rhythms in the Pylon/Delta 5 mold. And that’s it. There’s not a lick of guitar on the whole thing, and keyboards are rationed nearly as strictly. A few notes of warbly synthesizer are smuggled into “Cookie Lips,” and although they’re not much, they sound like a Brian Eno production compared to the rest of the record. Warpaint played with some overlapping influences on their last album, which demonstrated the many ways that dub can be morphed and modernized, but Nice As F**k have little interest in filling the considerable empty space they create. They play their post-punk homages completely straight.
It works in part because of the surprise factor (who knew Lewis had this kind of record in her?) but mostly because Lewis does what she always does: She sells the material. It’s a kick hearing her go full riot grrl on tracks like “Runaway” and “Door,” and lead Le Tigre-esque chants on “Homerun” and the album’s closing band theme (“We’re nice/as F**k .”) She’s also adjusted her songwriting to match her economical accompaniments, paring her usual wordy couplets down to concise slogans. Every line on the protest song “Guns” feels like a first draft it must have taken great restraint not to refine. “Crisis is not ISIS,” she sings. “Spilling our own blood/I don’t wanna be afraid/put your guns away.”
It’s hard not to see the album as a reaction to Lewis’s previous effort, the highly polished, achingly personal The Voyager. By most accounts that record took years to complete, while Nice As F**k —at the risk of going out on a limb—probably didn’t. If history is any indication, the project will likely be just a pit stop for a Lewis, a way for her to stretch out a bit before throwing herself into something a little more demanding, and that’s fine—not every effort needs to represent five years of toiling and soul searching. Nice As F**k may set its sights low, but it hits its mark.
1. Runaway (3:41)
2. Angel (2:37)
3. Homerun (2:28)
4. Cookie Lips (2:46)
5. Higher (3:12)
6. Mall Music (4:06)
7. Door (3:19)
8. Guns (2:58)
9. NAF Theme (0:44)