Only Jonathan Richman, Lester Bangs once wrote, “is willing to sing about his adolescent hangups in a manner so painfully honest as to embarrass the piss out of half the audience.” The neuroses of Nodzzz, a trio from the Bay Area, don’t quite rank with Richman’s. But the band, like the Modern Lovers leader, is certainly unafraid to showcase its everyday worries in song. Richman, who famously once fretted that the Velvet Underground played too loud, would probably appreciate Nodzzz’s latest full length, Innings. In particular, he’d dig the Poor Richard’s Almanack-esque “Always Make Your Bed,” just as he would’ve liked the title of Nodzzz’s 2007 breakout single, “I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana).” Agoraphobia is the disorder of choice on the stay-at-home anthem “I’m Not a Wanderer,” in which guitarists/singers Sean Paul Presley and Anthony Atlas intone, “I’m not a wanderer anymore/I’ve gone and locked the door/I’m not a troubadour, washing ashore.” And “Fear of Advice” bemoans the mercenary character of psychotherapists who only pay attention when “I sign the checks.”
Critics often group Nodzzz with other contemporary noise-pop bands. But the only thing Nodzzz has in common with, say, the San Diego-based Wavves is a shared home state, a reverence for garage and power-pop, and an antipathy toward spelling.
Nodzzz is a sui generis garage band. Unlike its supposed peers, the band doesn’t bury its songs in layers of sonic fuzz, and its singers don’t smother effects on their extremely nasal vocals, although most normals might prefer otherwise. About those vocals: They recall the similarly nostril-based voice of Great Plains/Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments lead singer Ron House. As a fan of House’s work, I should admit there is a serious double standard about unsophisticated male vocals in rock music. For Nodzzz, the saving grace is that the songs are ridiculously brief—the longest one clocks in at a merciful 2:12.
Innings is an improvement, production-wise, on the band’s self-titled debut, but neither record measures up to the high-larious potential of “I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana).” Often, Nodzzz’s nerve-jangled jangle pop hints at humor but doesn’t go far enough. (Blindly referencing Springsteen songs on “Ye Olde Indian Towne”—“Born in the U.S.A./Glory days,” they sing—doesn’t really cut it.) Ron House, on the other hand, earned multiple plays on Dr. Demento’s show. Ultimately, the band should realize what plenty of neurotic artists, from Richman to House to Albert Brooks, have learned: When you’re spilling your guts, make sure your audience is busting theirs.