764-Hero – Nobody Knows This Is Everywhere

3 out of 5

Label: Tiger Style

Produced by: Phil Ek

This happens to me quite often: I become interested in a band due to random circumstances (a thank you in another band’s liner notes; some kinda recommendation matrix; a used bin find; etc.) and then snatch up their back catalogue, ignorant of whatever their current plans are. My sudden fandom inflamed by my new collection, I’m further hyped by the announcement that there’s new material coming out, and this is to be a ‘big’ release: more recognition, a bigger label, a name producer, whatever. It’s one of those kismet kinda things that makes you question if your discovery was random, or actually some kind of unconscious draw toward the group’s stuff due to that new, ‘big’ release causing their name to be whispered in the general aether, affecting yer dang brain.

Whatever the case: 764-Hero’s Weekends of Sound was my first purchase from the band, in part because I was a Modest Mouse fan at the time and they was pals, in part because the art design for that album was so grossly colored and drab that I loved it instantly. John Atkins’, Polly Johnson’s, and James Bertram’s sound was not like much else in my collection at that point (and, I’d say, not like the remainder of their oeuvre so much, either): this atonal, slow-boil but propulsive lurch of sound; John’s hurry-up-and-slow-down vocals reverbed through a loud-ass wash of guitars and stuttering drums; it was not the riffier Modest Mouse, or a direct cousin to any of the other big name Up groups from the era. Other albums put them closer to a pop or minimalist camp, but I’m glad I had Weekends first, as it highlighted the group’s unique aspects and made those easier to discern and appreciate on their preceding discs.

Tiger Style – home to Nobody Knows This Is Everywhere – wasn’t exactly Matador, but it felt like a graduation from the Seattle indie bop comforts of Up, and the Neil Young-referencing album title was palatable to the hipsters. The disc was receiving some pretty glowing reviews from respectable sources. I’d been forcing my 764-Hero albums on the folks in my life who would tolerate that but hadn’t earned any converts; I was madly excited to have my appreciation vindicated with, surely, new fans.

We played the disc in the record shoppe; some people would buy it and I could give them approving nods. A friend who previously hadn’t cared started to moderately care. Alas: I dang found the album kinda boring.

That is what happens often: my fandom results in a new release (directly, I’m sure); other people pay attention; I am disappointed.

Now, there’s surely suspicions there that I feel that way because I’m an ass who wants to keep the band to m’self, but I’d refute that.  I can refute it now, relistening to Nobody Knows This Is Everywhere, and hardly being able to make it through without yawning.  It is, by no means, a bad release in any way: there are select tracks on there that tap into Atkins’ knack for riffs, and he lands on some absolutely pleasing and catchy choruses, but despite this being the same crew, and same producer, as usual… something is just off.  I relistened to Atkins’ projects that followed 764 – The Can’t See, Magic Magicians – and I love those.  I went back and relistened to the non-Weekends of Sound albums (Get Here and Stay, Salt Sinks) and I love those. Then I relistened to Nobody Knows, and I was bored.

I do think there was an attempt to shape their sound a bit differently.  Classic Atkins leans in to the song: Johnson kicks up a beat and the guitar seems too eager to follow, Atkins singing in a panic to catch up, yet with this front of slocore to it.  Nobody Knows has bits and pieces of that – the best and most catchy tracks mimic it – but the group seems to be aiming for more of a pop atmosphere, tightening up the format to play as a ‘band.’  While this would normally be a great thing, it’s too far away from the key elements that define their sound.  Here, while John’s voice is instantly notable, the songs in general sound more interchangeable with (ironically, I guess) various Up-sters.  The front half of the disc absolutely has its share of memorable moments – the chorus of Photographic Evidence; The Long Arm of the Law sounds like a Get Here and Stay B-Side – but it’s not really sticking, just kinda catchy.  You sing along, but aren’t really thinking about the words.  To that end, Atkins’ obsessions with missed connection dynamics (in relationships, in friendships) feels replaced by more generic expressions of that sentiment.

But I can’t knock the rating so much, because, again, the disc is generally solid. It sounds good, and the runtime is tightly packed with singles, which you might be hard-pressed to select off of previous discs.  So while I was happy to share 764 with the relative masses, and while this ain’t exactly a sell-out album, enough of what I loved about the band felt watered down to a version which I only kinda liked, and that version made an okay disc.