I tend to think of power pop and pop/punk fans as lab rats in a pleasure-button experiment who discovered that, working collectively with their tiny little spider paws, they could slide a brick over that button, pin it down for good and just go about their lives high as a f*cking kite. Everything that there is – this ballpeen hammer, for example, or an oil-blotched puddle with a spent chocolate-milk carton floating in it – triggers untempered joy, grief, rage, wet kissing and total release. It’s tough on the heart and the knees, and maybe they secretly hope that the juice gives out sooner rather than later.
The veteran Kingston band Nightmares for a Week paints a musical picture that is all heroic deed and tragic catharsis, parties that end in tears, the ordinary as unfailingly epic, an economy of pure payoff just ’cause you were born into time and everything else sucks, straight to dessert, no waiting. Ever. When the dynamics dip – typically little more than a shallow divot that you can measure in milliseconds – it is just a half-pipe used to generate a little momentum for the next peak, the next flailing, fist-pumping leap into the yap of a modern world that chews ordinary people up.
But I did say that they are “veteran.” They are savvy and smart about it. They know the deal when you are all about the sugar. NfaW’s legendary live sets are downhill, airtight, leakproof, relentless and short. And if the next act up isn’t the Boss himself, well, good luck.
On their bracing, literally delight-full new record Celebrations, NfaW prove, for the second time in four years, that their art of electric catharsis is not exclusively a live thing; it transmits well from the studio because, once again, they are smart and veteran about it. They have mastered the microdynamics of cranked, the finer grades within the general category of “10.” They are deceptively savvy stylistically, mixing a few totally on-topic genre expansions (the ’50s girl-pop of “Beautiful Boys,” the pre-Ramones garage punk of “Peep”) in with their baseline sound: working-class E-Street-inspired epic guitar pop, with some of the brightness and jangle of pop/punk and a vein of noisy electric fritz imported from an ’80s Minnesota garage.
Celebrations is front-loaded with viable singles, though every song is imagined as a hit. The clap-along “Arrows” sports an irresistible, emotionally deepening chorus and might be the first among equals here. The eternal-adolescent anthem “Summer” drops a winking hint at the gentlemen’s current state of life (“tell your mother, tell your wife”), just as the aforementioned “Beautiful Boy” seems more likely to be about parenthood than about teen heartbreak. With its inscrutable refrain of “dark glasses, black masses,” the title track gets at what amounts to the record’s thesis: These times are shit, but we are alive and we have each other.
A sense of “crowd” enlivens this record from beginning to end – in the gang choruses and stray room voices, in the way that the two-singer band passes the mic at pivotal moments within songs (those lead-vocal handoffs are NfaW’s secret weapon). This veteran-but-still-young rock band preaches a vision of something like collectivism without a trace of prescriptive hippie ideology. It’s a blue-collar collectivism of getting by, reliance and service and shared tears among family, friends and community. There is plenty of tragedy hinted at, but the gentlemen have made the choice to be heroic.
Nightmares for a Week celebrates the release of Celebrations on Friday, September 28 at BSP in Kingston. They will be joined by Hairbag and the Sci-Flies. Admission costs $8 at the door, and the show starts at 8 p.m. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. For more information, visit www.bspkingston.com.
Nightmares for a Week show & LP release, Friday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m., $8. BSP, 323 Wall St., Kingston, www.bspkingston.com