I got an assignment a while back to review Noze’s Songs on the Rocks for Flavorpill. I enjoyed the album a lot and said so, and in the past few days, as I’ve been cleaning out my hard drive (my room, then my head will be next), I started listening to it again. The last one was sort of odd; I wasn’t concentrating very hard on it and began to feel annoyed, wondering why I’d rated it so highly. Now, tonight, I have it on again, and it’s glorious. I understand it better now--partly because this is an album you need time with, and to hear spaced apart. It’s not a casual album, nor is it the kind you can become genuinely obsessed with. That’s an odd basis for a work to seem extraordinary, but so it is with Songs on the Rocks.
What I’ve realized is how extremely indebted it is to Herbert. Not dance floor Herbert, whose Secondhand Sounds is one of the sturdiest arguments I know that packagings of two-and-a-half hours of beats and variations has its own secret canon, a canon that stands with anyone’s. I mean that Noze borrow heavily from album Herbert--the guy who made Around the House and Bodily Functions and Scale, the guy whose signature is so immediately his own he went and formalized his methodology in a manifesto. I don’t think he was looking for copycats, though--and no, Noze aren’t copycats, not exactly. What they take from him isn’t methodology (maybe, though I sincerely doubt it, especially not with that singing) so much as a certain set of tastes: beats lean but still very present, fine-mist atmosphere (both Herbert and Noze are apparently allergic to reverb), very simple piano lines that allow everything to breathe but still remain strong guides through the proceedings. He no doubt helped teach them how to hear, but you get the idea they’d have arrived somewhere like it even without his example.
What really works for me now in a way it didn’t before is the singing. Particularly the gruff singing. I don’t know much about these guys, and while it’s lazy not to just look it up, the small mystery my ignorance provides is rather enjoyable, so don’t judge me too harshly, please. But there’s a guy who sounds like a cross between Eugene Hutz and (especially) Tom Waits, with a soupcon of Oscar the Grouch on top of it. What I didn’t know until this time around is that what he’s singing is often very good. I don’t look to dance albums for lyrics, but I’m always happy to find them there.