NK, formerly known as ‘North Korea,’ is an intriguing yet largely unknown collaboration between ex-members of Envy On The Coast and the drummer for The Dillinger Escape Plan. Instead of that mix sounding like a predictable mishmash of similar post-hardcore and emo-pop angles, their debut album Nothing to be Gained Here is admirably diverse. Perhaps to a fault, even.
The opening tracks, “Confessional” and “Kings,” kick immediate ass. Guitarist Michael Sadis’ riffs are sludgy as all hell, but the drums and vocals keep up a solid rock energy. If Rage Against the Machine made another record while Zach De La Rocha took singing lessons and Tom Morello listened to more Botch and The Melvins, the result would sound like these tracks.
However, the following ambient-percussive mushroom-forest jam “Memo” sees the first of several abrupt changes throughout the album. Lyricist Ryan Hunter goes into story-telling mode in this “high-and-driving” plot: [LISTEN]
3am, dinner in the gutter, curbside
Super fried, supersized and
Too tired to drive
It’s the sweet sacrifice, look back on days of glory
23 more hours ‘til I repeat the story
It’s 6am drives, jackknifed on the shoulder
Still high from last night, the miles tend to sober
My eyes, stop signs, the miles tend to bore me
23 more hours ’til I repeat my story
After putting the rain sticks away, it’s time to rock again, but “Customer” and “Shoulder Gorilla” [LISTEN] fail to live up to the nuclear threats of the opening tracks. Still, the theme of the former – “You’re nothing more than a customer” – is possibly the most accurately concise 99%er description of present American capitalism, even if the melody leaves a little to be desired. The heavy riffage doesn’t hurt, either.
Meanwhile the hairpin turns in genre start to really get confusing. “(Interlude)” is a solid chillhop piano-and-drums jam, but its dark feel relates to the previous several tracks, especially “Memo.” The following “Vacation Days” is full-blown summertime Cee Lo soul - still cool, but it takes a strange fan to want it in the same set as those opening bombs.
Out of the remaining tracks, “Television” stands out with its funky take on shared isolation as Hunter wishes to “bury himself” with a TV and lover (later leaving the settled life with the TV behind). While “Set a Fire” lets drummer Billy Rymer flex his Dillinger-style uptempo ghost-note shred-muscles, but in a more toned-down fashion.
We’d call the album ‘hit-or-miss’, but it’s all pretty much hits. A better term might be ‘incongruously-eclectic but innovative’. Although this applies less to Hunter’s grimy themes, even from the shitfaced sex-hounding on “Kings” to the lost time of “Vacation Days.” Still, it’s experimental, which means nothing is off-limits. Plus, even the more “mainstream” sections still feel musically creative, which should make for interesting contrasts as the forthcoming tour openers for Fall Out Boy. Picture all those sugars, before they go down swinging, contemplating a situation where whining is not an option:
When you haven’t gotten any lately,
And you’ve been stumblin’ back home lookin’ pretty shitty
When you’re hanging in the gallery, you don’t stop
When the big wigs bought the whole Goddamn block
When you live to see 27, feelin’ dead at age 30