Signed to Frenetic Records and publicized by Fanatic Promotion, local boysmadegroovy the Makes Nice are surprisingly mellow. Perhaps they've been consorting with a resurrected British freakbeat muse it's been "more relaxed than you'd think, given the name and all," vocalist-guitarist Josh Smith writes via e-mail, discussing the group's deal with Frenetic. The San Francisco label also home to releases by one of Smith's previous bands, the Fucking Champs is proving an ideal base for these kind and raucous rockers. Their debut, Candy Wrapper and 12 Other Songs, is a head rush without the dizziness. Think honey versus synthetic sweeteners, Tartine Bakery's shimmering morning buns versus Costco's limp croissants.
Throughout Candy Wrapper there's a certain calm call it the clarity that comes with good ole musicianship. Phil Manley of Trans Am expertly engineered the album at Lucky Cat, and he emphasized how the jazzlike rapport among the players helps the ripping guitar solos become play-it-again hooks, while the drum beats groove like funky piano solos. "I always know that your opinions are stale / When you say fresh, I know it's fucking stale / And it don't mean nothing at all," the boys harmonize smoothly over staccato syncopation on the title track. On "As Long As I Can" a crowded drumbeat that could throw off lesser percussionists dances in the agile hands of Jack Matthew (also a member of Harold Ray Live in Concert). When I compare the vocals on "Anna Karina" to those of punk groups on Fat Wreck Chords, Smith responds, "They were supposed to have been stolen from Les Fleur de Lys, Powder, SRC, and maybe the Everly Brothers." The members of the Makes Nice don't have SRC's fantastic hair, but the Mothballs' Aaron Burnham plays bass that would stand strong in any decade of rock.
But how to describe the nature of this superfun trio? A mandolin is subtle and effective because of its double strings. So maybe we could label the Makes Nice a double trio, though they would prefer either a ragingly ridiculous moniker or none at all. "If it's cool, I would prefer to call my songs post-techstep neofreakbeat," Smith jokes. "I'd call Aaron's songs anachronistic Spartacus watchband croon-wop. I'd consider Jack's songs to be hybrid vapor-wetware tragicomedy...." Maybe they play unsurf rock for those who don't like genre surf rock and don't know how to surf. "I wish we could play surf music," Burnham writes, pretending to brood. "We sorta tried and failed."
I like to blame the vicious surf gangs in Santa Cruz for stymieing my surfing education. But honestly, I was just as happy to bodysurf in safer spots and then sunned, exhausted, and deliriously happy (remember that time before laptops?) find a big smooth rock and rest on it, reading comics. Eventually, I added a Walkman to this scene, then a lover. The Makes Nice capture such windswept feelings in the tunes "She Don't Ever Let Go" and "California Sun."
Talented local artist Hellen Jo (www.helllllen.org that's five l's) designed Candy Wrapper 's cover, an eye-grabbing minicomic depicting a terrible car accident. "I met Hellen about five years ago while we were both students at UC Berkeley, and we've pretty much been friends and mutual fans ever since," Burnham writes. "We sent her a few songs with lyrics and asked her to choose one to depict with a minicomic for the cover. And she did, exceeding all of our expectations. We emptied out the band piggy bank for her, of course."
Likewise, Candy Wrapper speaks clearly to a graphic-novel generation that sees stories in everything.