When a band that features one of my favorite songwriters and one of my favorite drummers of all time flies under my radar for three years, something has gotta be up. I never get off the computer and leave the house! How could this happen?
Certain People I Know features Bob Nanna and Damon Atkinson, both well known around these parts for their past work in Braid and Hey Mercedes. Get these two guys together in a room and I will listen. I don’t care if it’s freeform jazz.
Together with a second guitarist, bassist and keyboardist that I don’t already know, CPIK formed in 2009, playing their first show on February 13th of that year according to their Facebook page. Research of other kinds has proven fairly fruitless, so I scour their Facebook feed further. After a flurry of short posts about their initial shows and some “recordings”, they go six months without before we get a post about Braid reissues. Six more months later and we hear that they’ve got 8 songs recorded. This is August 2011. I honestly don’t know if this self-titled record is the same recordings as those (this record is nine songs, so one was recorded more recently at least), and then we don’t hear anything again until this June. Even their label–Count Your Lucky Stars–while having some news items about them, doesn’t have them in their “Artist” section, or have this album, which came out on Tuesday, in their “Releases” sections.
So there is a bunch of mystery surrounding the background of this band and album, but my hypothesis is that these slightly-older musicians are going about things a bit more casually this time. And with Braid back in full swing for Nanna and Atkinson, they kinda have to. Ok, well it doesn’t really matter because we’re getting more new tunes from the Nanna camp. So on to the music.
CPIK contains many elements that followers of the school of Nanna will love instantly, as their sound harkens back to oh-so-long-ago when a band called Hey Mercedes was smoothing over the rougher, more angular edges of Braid’s sound, and popping them up to the max. If you took Loses Control (released NINE years ago? Jesus.) and added some light keyboard elements and female vocals, you’d have CPIK. Lauren LoPiccolo, who formerly had teamed with Bob in the more hushed project Jack & Ace, is the difference here. The guitars crunch in HM-style chords and Atkinson’s drums are inspiring as always, but it’s LoPiccolo’s smooth voice and supplementary keys that give the distinction.
We meet her keys on opener “Neverlasting” and one gasped line of vocals, but it’s on “Our Lady of Guadalupe” where we get properly introduced. My favorite track on the album, we get LoPiccolo on the verses with Nanna singing the chorus: ”Guadalupe, pray for us / In Spanish it sounds dangerous”. Their voices work well together, as Bob’s voice had been getting smoother and less aggressive in recent years and her voice is the female equivalent. I wish she sung more. Her keyboards, when audible, are cool enough but not a major part of these songs. Closer “How Was the Show” features her singing over guitar arpeggios and churning organ chords. It’s the most Jack & Ace of all the songs here, and the least Hey Mercedes. Oh, and it’s got a Mountain Goats reference. It’s a great closer to chill things out.
“King of Shots” is a more aggressive cut, with uptempo palm muting pushing the songs through the verse into the chorus where Bob lets loose a bit into his high range. “NYE” is pretty killer, with a stutter-step rhythm to the verses that recalls more of Nanna’s Braid era. It opens up and kicks into ¾ in the chorus, then back again.
I dig the overall sound of this record for sure, but there are a couple tracks that don’t leave much of an impression. The one-two un-punch of “Rowdy – Pivotal” and “Make It Up” (despite a cool drum intro/outro) near the album’s end just kinda sit there. “Rowdy – Pivotal” for one, is mid-tempo, middling dynamics, and not captivating in any way, instrumentally or vocally. But my biggest problem is I wish this album were longer, ‘cause at 28 minutes, these small missteps don’t seem as small. The band’s Facebook feed makes it clear that the band assembles at random, works for a bit and plays a show or records some tracks, then goes away for awhile. I suppose it’s no surprise then that the album has a few weak spots that weren’t as developed.
Yet, when the album locks in, it hits right where I want it too. I am happy to have new Nanna tracks of any kind. While this record leaves a bit to be desired, my standards are incredibly high for Nanna as a songwriter. While we have Braid back, CPIK will have to do on the smoother, more melodic end. Hope they don’t disappear for another three years for us to hear where they go next.