Nudge: As Good as Gone

Nudge's storied evolution appears to be somewhat of a stop-start proposition, with the long gaps between releases putting the band's status as a living entity into doubt. With four years separating the release of its previous full-length, Cached, and its latest, As Good As Gone (the interval broken by the release of two 2008 EPs, the spirited Stack on Community Library and the rather bleak Infinity Padlock on Audraglint), one finds oneself occasionally speculating upon whether the latest release will be the group's last. As Good As Gone, however, suggests that the band is very much alive, due in no small part to the shift in directorial balance signified by the release. Whereas previous ones found Nudge co-operatively run by Honey Owens (aka Valet), Paul Dickow (aka Strategy), and Brian Foote, the new one finds Foote assuming a more governing role. Of the three, he's the only one who plays on all seven pieces, and he mixed and produced the album too. Which isn't to suggest that the contributions of Owens and Dickow to the group sound are less central to the new album than they were to those before—Owens' voice in particular remains one of Nudge's defining elements—but simply to clarify that Foote has become the group's ringleader. Certainly Nudge's slow-burning sound is intact on As Good As Gone, though it's perhaps less propulsive compared to Cached. The music once again stakes out a middle ground between loose-limbed spontaneity and methodical digital assembly, and the group's hazy and atmospheric blend of vocals, guitars, synths, and dub bass lines returns. The material often unfolds languorously with the bass line the primary anchor for an otherwise organic swirl of high-wire interplay.

The forty-minute recording is a travelogue of sorts, a stylistic and conceptual portrait of Nudge circa 2009. “Harmo” opens with bright harmonica wheeze and thumb piano, immediately confirming that we've entered the familiar wide open spaces so characteristic of the Nudge sound. Fleshing out the ever-swelling mass are low-pitched synth blasts and, like a resurrected spirit exhumed from an ‘80s shoegaze album, Owens' vocal haze. It's a sparkling overture of dream-laced wonderment that bodes well for the six tracks to come. The dub dimension of Nudge's music comes to the fore in “Two Hands” in the minimal bass lines that anchor the flow of vocals, percussion, and electronics. Wah-wah guitar playing surreptitiously sneaks into position while Owens adds prototypically entrancing lines to the mutating whole. The tune suddenly shifts into harder gear when a funky pulse settles in alongside a raw guitar attack and electric trumpet bleating that can't help but call mid-‘70s Miles to mind. Best of all, the track nicely captures the fluidity that characterizes Nudge's playing style and the natural ease with which a given song can shift from one mode to another. With Owens and Dickow sitting out, “Aurolac” becomes a Foote solo track, though Marc Hellner and Jon Pyle join in. The sound is still Nudge, however, with Foote's breathy vocal in some respects the male equivalent to Owens' singing. And, as before, the bass holds the elements in place, with aggressive drum flourishes loosely accenting the song's guitar-heavy flow. In “Tito,” Owens' voice sways and swoops over a languid bass pulse and synthesizer and spiky guitar embellishments. One of two longish pieces, it's the loosest of the tracks and its sleepy, incantatory aura makes it feel closest in spirit to improv. The slow-motion meditation “Burns Blue” alternates between dirge episodes, with Foote's voice emerging like a phantom rising from the crypt, and passages where the music blossoms into full-flowering splendor. Eschewing beats and bass lines altogether, the nine-minute “Dawn Comes Light” begins with a solo guitar episode of atmospheric desert twang before Foote's soft murmur appears, the mood purposefully meditative and becalmed until rolling waves of electric guitar emerge to drench the vocals. Here and elsewhere, one struggles at times to decipher the lyrics when the vocals are wrapped in such ethereal gauze but, even when broached on purely sonic terms, they complement the overall dreamcasting style of Nudge's music. In its softer moments, “Dawn Comes Light” exudes a requiem-like feel, but let's hope the adieu applies to the album only and not the Nudge project itself.

September 2009