The idea of listing off the merits of home-recording feels, perhaps in 2017 especially, a little funny. Or at the very least, redundant. Home-recording is financially viable, often more efficient than studio time and, well, charming. We know this. There is an unassuming vibrancy to it, a certain streamlining of sentiment which, in the current underground craze of bedroom pop artists, still feels indebted to romanticization by listeners who feel like they’re being let in on a secret. And that’s okay; really, it’s pretty logical for listeners to feel a particular closeness to an artist whose work rings as both emotionally transparent and subversive of conventional expectations. Still, there is a sort of broad-stroke painting that takes shape around discussions of home-recording and “lo-fi” production, which is why this split stuck out as being particularly intriguing. Despite recording the five-song release together in the same house, Sam Nazaretian – a.k.a. Sam Nazz – and Ironclad – a.k.a. Kyle McGandy – are drawing from fairly different places sonically and thematically. And yet as a whole this release feels truly like two sides of a coin – a quality which is, in and of itself, the ideal starting point for a split.
Nazaretian, whose duties as vocalist and primary songwriter for Connecticut math-pop band Cheem presumably take up a good chunk of his musical energy, described his side of the split as being made during “a period of emotional distress,” central to which were identity struggles. Nazz’s songwriting isn’t heavy-handed by any means, its private confrontations often routed through rhetorical interrogations. “Someone disguised it/ All the masks are on your head/ is your face really there?” he probes over the unraveling textures of “Cobalt.” “All of the lies are tangling around your skin, you’ll never be them,” he sings soon after, the halting timbre and effortless finesse of his voice giving way to sudden, overdriven chord changes. While Nazz’s role in Cheem is solely that of vocalist, his guitar playing on this release – particularly the complementary electric plucking – is tasteful and refined. It never does too much, and should really never have to; when a voice like Sam Nazz’s is on display, most other elements are forced to take a backseat anyway.
McGandy’s work as Ironclad is far less conventionally pretty than probably anything Nazz has or ever will create – only one of the voices present on this release is likely to be mistaken for that of baroque-pop heartthrob Brendan Urie, and it’s not the one spitting coarse “go fuck yourself”s. Perhaps for that exact reason, though, Ironclad’s side feels a bit more interesting (re: unpredictable) on first listen. At the very least, it surely fits the ‘alt. country’ descriptor they’ve tacked to it, their voice taking on a rawness and twang that is otherwise absent in their work in the more measured-sounding Massachusetts emo outfit Rest. Combine this with gothic moodiness, a meandering solo or two, and top it off with flourishes of slide guitar, and the result feels like a perverted, sometimes-disorienting take on what a punk thinks country could be. ‘Alt.’ in-fucking-deed.
Download the split for pay-what-you-can on bandcamp and then go snag a tape from Deep Sea Records!
Watch Ironclad play “Friends Like You” live below: