Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Nagel: Barely Nagel


Barely Nagel
Royal Cavendish Records

There's a story behind this band and nobody can figure it out. Their bio tells a story of ongoing decadence and wealth, which nods to them being an '80s new wave party band, but their proclivity for swinging and polyandry places their mentality in the '70s also. What's even more confusing is that they claim to have a wind powered recording complex/compound, which makes no sense given not only their affinity for the unrestrained consumerism of the previous decades, but also because they say they live in an underground bunker. Mine is not to question the legality nor legitimacy of their wealth and mating habits, but they play some great music. Their debut album, Barely Nagel, is a collection of smart, bright sounding pop songs that celebrate heartbreak and dissapointment in appealing terms.

One would think from the name and album cover art that Nagel is another bad art and soft porn loving, jet setting hybrid of punk and disco a la Duran Duran. Surpisingly, their songs are pretty negative. "You're Not My Father," the opening track, has cheery, jangling guitar from the omnipotent Taskmaster that feuds and somehow connects with the post punk melodic thuds of the bass playing Thunder. Diva's voice is enchanting, but one really can't tell if she's the one fighting back against a demanding lover or if she's making the demands herself when she sings "You are nothing new, there's 50 more like you outside my door." If the bio is true, she's likely taken on both roles. Diva's vocal prowess and range is much stronger when she's criticizing her ex for holding on to her after she's grown away from him in the Waitresses tinged "Prolong My Agony." The strongest theme behind Barely Nagel is the struggle over keeping one's separate identity within an intimate relationship, which could be an ongoing problem for this band since they all claim to be intimately involved with each other. Maintaining one's sense of themselves in a relationship is a common theme that almost everyone can identify with, but it's refreshing and sexier to hear it from a woman's perspective when Diva sings "And maybe you think that I shouldn't drink, and maybe you're thinking too much" on the mariachi led "Thinking Too Much." The upbeat "Save Me" is a Something Wild inspired, bad girl gives you experience and both ruins but enriches your life in the process, new wave driven hex by Rio's slightly '80s powered keyboard that is both seductive- "We're going to bed, no tellin' baby, you're a mess so act like one now", then romantic, unhinhibited, and potentially disastrous-"We can run together and love will be our greatest rise, drive a car away now and we can start to have some fun, but stop first at the bank and make a withdrawl from your trust fund!" That judgement is only in retrospect since it alludes to a sexual, romantic, road trip adventure invitation that many of us had in some form or another when we were younger and sex and romance was new. Being older, we might not miss or welcome the vulnerability of that happening again, but miss the adventure when things were new. We get the consequences of taking that chance on the following Jekyll and Hyde story "I Think You're Insane" with the powerful drumming from the rumored Bowie-sexual Mr. Kyte and Taskmaster's Byrds worshipping guitar introduction.

One can always create a fun story with no explanation or rationale to get people interested in them. With or without that story as a backdrop, the debut Barely Nagel from Austin's Nagel plays like a Fleetwood Mac Rumors for people that shave and have better haircuts. The themes of losing one's identity as a result of romantic involvement and taking a chance on someone, hoping for a great adventure but hinting at disaster from having to deal with their neuroses is quite realistic. At first, it's also reminiscent of some great female fronted new wave acts from the '80s, but musically, it's stronger and keeps an originality of its own. Lyrically, it's more than clever. A lot of lines that are memorable as both humorous and truthful in context, among them being "You can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, and you can take a whore to culture, but you can't make her think." In all the intentional cheese of Nagel with their bio and artwork, the band is a smart, poppy band with great talent and short songs that are both funny and disturbing, but honest in the situations and feelings expressed in them are many that we've all had at one time or another. That's timeless, even if the artwork or their story intentionally isn't.

Barely Nagel is available for purchase as a download on iTunes or from Waterloo Records online as a hard copy CD.

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