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NK - Nothing To Be Gained Here[21st May 2013]
[Triple Crown Records]

01. Confessional
02. Kings
03. Memo
04. Customer
05. Shoulder Gorilla
06. (Interlude)
07. Vacation Days
08. X It Out
09. Television
10. Sweetness
11. Set A Fire

The funny thing about listening to side-projects is that you can’t help but bring certain expectations based on the ‘main’ bands of those involved – but, often, the very best side-projects sound nothing like those day jobs. And so it is with NK, and their debut full length Nothing To Be Gained Here.

The main things to know about NK are that they were known, until very recently, as North Korea, and their drummer Billy Rymer also plays in The Dillinger Escape Plan (you should look out for them; I think they’re going places). It also should be pointed out that other members Michael Sadis and Ryan Hunter also have previous form, in The Rivalry and Envy On The Coast respectively.

As I say, setting NK alongside DEP, in particular, only serves to highlight the differences between their respective sounds. So where DEP are characterised by a hyperkinetic yet precise furiousness, NK are a more relaxed, jam-based affair that carry themselves with a kind of languid swagger. NK may have a bit more in common with Envy On The Coast’s sound, but that is largely due to the immediately recognisable nature of Ryan’s voice.

The development of the band’s sound can be tracked to this point via two EPs - The Basement Tapes Vols I and II - which are available for the cost of a like of their Facebook page. Bargain. Vol I is an energetic, immediate blast, coming off at times like a poppy Refused. Vol II is a quieter, more esoteric quartet of songs that considerably broadens the scope of the band           .

Their sound has developed still further following the departure late last year of guitarist Brian Byrne (who was also in Envy On The Coast), and the band have been coy about precisely who plays the guitars on the album. The presumption would be that it is Ryan, but live footage seeping out from the band’s recent short tour supporting Fall Out Boy shows additional guitarists on stage, and no instrument in Ryan’s hands. Still, a little bit of mystery doesn’t hurt.

The band’s sonic trajectory has continued in the direction of travel on from The Basement Tapes and the net result is a rather unique sound that, as reference points, touches on the rockier aspects of the Beastie Boys and the dreamier Deftones songs. The heavier tracks borrow the angularities of Helmet or Unsane, albeit without the naked aggression, and the clutch of slinkier, soulful numbers wouldn’t sound out of place on Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom album.

The tones are fuzzy and the bass, in particular, sounds huge. The band create more soundscapes than straight riffs – one of the stand-out tracks, “Customer“, is built around a single note rhythmic pulse.

Probably my favourite track carries the splendidly bizarre title of “Shoulder Gorilla” and serves as an excellent introduction to the band as a whole. Ryan’s lyrics are as distinctive as his voice, and are enigmatic almost to the point of nonsensical  The segue for a dynamic step-change from the shuffling introduction to a heavier section carries the line “You never did pain, you did cartwheels through the ring of fire, so light ‘em up”. God only knows what this means, but it has now been lodged firmly in my head for days on end.

With a minute-long interlude sitting at the halfway point, the album effectively splits in two, with most up-tempo songs before the break, and the quieter ones after. Even so, Billy saves his most frenetic snare assault for the soaraway album closer “Set A Fire”.

If you are the type of person whose listening habits are influenced by the weather, then this is an ideal album for a lazy summer afternoon. As immediately accessible as it is unconventional, Nothing To Be Gained Here is something of a surprise and a delight. It would be stretching the definition to call this even an alt-metal album, but its quirky charms will certainly engage the open-minded.


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