Editor’s Note: You can hear each of these tracks as you read by visiting The Nghiems Band Camp page: http://thenghiems.bandcamp.com/
People who don’t know The Nghiem Brothers (David, James, Andy) will think this is a pretty good record. People who know the Nghiems will think this is a great record.
The debut album by the Norman indie poppers marks a collaboration between living room tinkerers and the burgeoning small label minds behind Blackwatch Studios. As such, we have an album of taut tunes, strong hooks, sincere lyrics and evocative keyboard anchored production choices that remind us that this record exists in fantastic places: sometimes outer space, sometimes in our own heads, sometimes at the hard boiled wonderland end of the world (to wit: drummer James is a Murakami reader).
To say this record is about outer space is also to say that there’s something of the extraterrestrial about the Nghiem brothers, period. In the sense that I usually call unusual people “space cadets.” When I worked at a demanding and fun college newspaper with the drummer James, for example, he would get to a deadline from a class by sprinting across the south oval. This sort of behavior, on the too cool for school south oval at OU of all places, etched James a place in my personal cosmology of legends.
Then there’s the time him and David came home to a crammed full house. It was a bunch of their old dad’s friends. They forgot that his dad was housing the touring ashes of all these sacred Buddhist monks. Local Buddhists had all gathered to The Nghiems to pay their respects.
So they’ve made an album now, that thing people always talk about doing but never do, and throwing all sentiments aside I can say I feel the same way listening to this record as I do in the comforting presence of these preternatural, smart, even tempered and sometimes rocking guys. I hope it’s not the “Last Transmission” to outer space, as track 6 suggests. Because it seems like there’s so many more strange, fantastic places they can go. (The creative powers are there: In some copies of The Pine Tree, The Mushroom & The End of the World have a small picture storybook, lending a small legend to the record).
Track one opens with one of David’s first songs “Nothing to Fear,” where the Nghiems introduce to lazy piano ballad style the idea of Armageddon in a way that doesn’t seem to phase them, and so us. It’s a pretty track.
“Traveling Coat” harnesses some of the better imagery David has written thus far. It has the gentlemanly sweetness of an old Jack Lemmon performance or something, and its pathos. It’s elemental: “so the season has changes. No snow, no rain. And so I am gone. I’ve been tossed away.” The man and the coat he gave the girl.
“Everything in Between” is a bit slow on the upstart, but the chorus is skillfully delivered. It carries some serious cerebral worry that makes it stick out a bit on this often optimistic record. And the story seems to apply to so many people The Nghiems have probably known, that I’m glad they get a place here. “Until all at once, it starts to die, the dreams you had within your eyes crawl in your heart and sit awhile. They fall apart as you try to smile. You try to think of where to start. Or better yet, where is your heart?”
Visiting this song, then, is like visiting your more together energetic friend.
Fortunately, The Nghiems pick the charm and the party back up with “Dancing Shoes.” The embellishments of Blackwatch Studios give this easy beat some ambient gauze and precocious Brine Webb bass.
Norman’s Blackwatch studio brings plenty of people to The Nghiem’s party. This is one of the most vital and interesting labels in Oklahoma I’d guess. Listening to Stillwater rock is sort of like again being a 7th grader who thinks Radiohead’s Karma Police allows them to feel sorry for themselves. I get more of a sense of fun and motion from these guys. Ryan Lindsey is lurking on this album—as he is reminding people what good, strict punk rock is about with BRONCHO. There’s Ben King on the knobs, and Brine Webb. Gentle Ghost’s Sethy McCarroll, local instrumental mad man Tanner Blair, keyboardist and Charlie Rayl alum Jennifer Rickard, Jarod Evans, Chad Copelin, and the music writer Becky Carman all are on this record or have done sessions with The Nghiems, on the live sets that culminate with this record.
There’s a sense of community about the record that comes through.
The production itself adds elements I appreciate, after hearing the basic songs in their first forms. “Morning” is the surprise. Latent strings introduce that strange nice morning feeling. The digital blips are just spacey enough. David is doing his motivational speaking thing. Then the song takes off. It’s been said there’s some Death Cab in this record, but I don’t hear it. Here, a bubbly ascent evokes the optimistic lilt of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” a song that should stand apart from its creator’s popular reputation.
And finally, if we are to apply Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence theory to ground level indie rock (and why not?)… we might see a certain struggle going on throughout this record. The ancient competition between a poet and his precursor. If there is an influence on David’s charming style, it would be from the guy he and James once carried amps for, Ben Kweller. Throughout this record this ancient struggle plays out against the backdrop of Zeus and his congress, Homer’s brave Ulysses, mushrooms, human heartbreak and lunar landscapes. In Bloom’s theory, the strong poets will emerge with a different voice. When I hear the very last track “Songwriter=Heart + Soul =FTW = Theme Song” I hear a lot of attributes that are uniquely Nghiemish … The equations are the days James still thought he’d be a chemistry major, cramming hopelessly at the newsroom table … The naivete of making music itself is in it. The simple yearning to be a songwriter, and then the nerve to do it. They roll out the elements like they were teachers, and James indeed has been a long time video editing teacher at school and at work.
And David’s wise old young lyrics:
“Cuz we know something that they don’t know. It’s not OK to be so alone. We don’t need much to make it go. Just heart and soul.”
These space cadets do know something, and it’s here in this track as the rest of the studio follows them in a final chant. What a neat record .