Naked on the Vague – Heaps of Nothing

Be it from a dear friend or an embittered rival or just a passing acquaintance at a concert, we’ve all heard that careless assumption before. “Musical innovation can no longer be done, y’know, the best and the brightest musical acts the world has known have come and gone. The 70’s were the music world’s golden age.” While I can’t necessarily disagree with the latter statement (what with Joy Division, The Who, The Velvet Underground and The Beatles to some degree, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etcetera etcetera), the former is terribly wrong; it’s not much more than a defensive judgment call made in an attempt to protect oneself from the vulnerability of investing your faith in a band that hasn’t yet been immortalized by worldwide magnanimity. These stalwarts insist that all new groups suck because, frankly, they’re not ready to hear them, and they never intend to be. It would prove them wrong to like new music, or place them in a position to potentially be proven wrong. After all, what’s more important? Being sincere? Or being right?

I’m not going to pretend like being original isn’t difficult and doesn’t get increasingly difficult with each passing day. Perhaps the 70’s were so arresting because they represented the adolescence of the album era, fearless and ready to try new things. The 80’s suffered from a confused sense of where the 70’s appeal stood, borrowing more from Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls than would be deemed healthy. Artists turned toward applying their energy into songs that were bigger and flashier, producing results that proved tacky and insincere. Anybody remember Twisted Sister? Past all the polished glitz of the 80’s, however, still stood a handful of innovators, most of note those hailing from the Brooklyn-based No Wave movement led by Sonic Youth. Change never died off; it merely resurfaced as a counterculture.

Naked on the Vague speak directly from this freak scene like a time capsule newly unearthed. Heaps of Nothing buzzes and drones in the same manner as EVOL-era Sonic Youth, with a sense of shoegaze-y wholeness owed partly to the poor quality production. Like AI favorite Have a Nice Life, Naked on the Vague’s music streams from the CD with serrated edges, taking the visage of a viscous molasses of haze and grit. Unlike HaNL, however, this Australian quartet manages to fill the negative spaces that HaNL’s limited musical palette tends to leave wide open. In this manner, Heaps of Nothing shares much with Sonic Youth, particularly Confusion is Sex and Washing Machine, and with contemporaries No Age.

Despite all the similarities, Heaps of Nothing is not just a newcomer’s stab at Confusion is Sex. Whereas Sonic Youth charged the scene with a rebellious vigor that sent tremors right down to the fabric of 80’s era New Wave, Naked on the Vague’s sophomore effort is an affair that wanders through a droning malaise of lazy post-punk. The generally slow pace and lackadaisical vocals can at times be thoroughly hypnotic, throwing the listener into a dreamscape of distortion and crackling guitars.

They’ve certainly got a lot of breathing room, with few similar artists leading a charge nowadays save for the aforementioned and maybe Wavves. In addition, they’ve got time on their sides, their sound no longer being too alien after having been prepped for a couple decades by Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. Even if tracks like “The Joke” and “Wrong Room” sound like they’ve been taken straight from EVOL, it might be unfair to imply that Naked on the Vague are just some kind of revival act. And while “Sacred Youth” might sound a lot like a Washing Machine B-side on the surface, it’s imbibed with a post-grunge melancholy, fully aware of itself and ready to do little more than writhe in its own languor.

Sonic Youth owes their lasting impression to the era in which they were reared, the same era which the band satired so mercilessly. Daydream Nation is the 80’s classic that it is precisely because it is the most culturally relevant, and culturally aware, album of its time. Perhaps Naked on the Vague have arrived at precisely the right time to follow in the footsteps of Moore and Gordon, what with today’s potential 80’s revival ranging from a number of players as far and wide as Yeasayer, MGMT, M83, and even Muse and a bear’s handful of U2 wannabes (Kings of Leon, The Killers, Coldplay, even 30 Seconds to Mars?!?) fronting the mainstream scene. It all feels strangely nostalgic, especially with the music world teetering haphazardly along the border of another era of synthetic fetishism. Well, if ever some kind of counter-revival comes into being, count Naked on the Vague into it. After all, every monolith has to have its shadow and I’m sure the Second No Wave and Naked on the Vague would be all too happy to oblige.

Score: B-

by Mason “It’s the final countdown! [dee-da-dee-doo]” McGough

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