For almost fifteen years, no band or artist has ever wedged itself between Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana in my CD collection. While other bands have come and sometimes gone from the racks, the two seminal early nineties bands have never been apart. Fifteen years is a long time. I was beginning to think that The Downward Spiral and Bleach might fuse together at some point. (I keep my CD’s alphabetical and chronological if you haven’t guessed, which means no, I didn’t buy The Fragile). But lo and behold, what do I get in my mailbox to review? An album by a band called Ninja Gun. The unholy marriage between Kurt and Trent was over.
But what kind of band could have done this, if not figuratively, at least literally? The band hails from the hub of alternative music, Valdosta, Georgia. The new pride of Lowndes County’s first album is called Smooth Transitions, and while the title didn’t describe it’s attack on my CD collection’s order, it does fit the way that it felt to my ears.
“The Cold War is Colder Than Ever” is the album’s opener and comes across exactly how the band’s Florida label describes them, as a combination of the Replacements and alt-country. Driving post-punk guitars lay a solid sonic foundation for Johnathan Coody’s vocal ability, which sounds like a combination of Jeff Tweedy and Dios’ Morales brothers.
The title track is one of the shining moments of the album. Rather than having anything to do with my previous two interpretations, it references the narrator’s view of life in one’s thirties. He sees his brother having an easy time of life while he, in his mid-twenties, is barely able to survive. It’s an anthem for everyone of that age, with one of the best lines espousing feelings of fear of adulthood.
“I remember better times when rock and roll was not a crime
and 40 hours was not an option.
But now they tell me it’s the only way.”
The repeated “God bless me” refrain reminds me of its new neighbor, early Nirvana. While Ninja Gun might not have hit the nail on the head as hard as Cobain and company, they at least are taking a good whack at it.
Other songs on the debut album recall state-mates R.E.M.’s early, more countrified roots, such as the song “Purification Ritual,” which sounds like a slowed down version of “Driver 8.” Like R.E.M., Ninja Gun’s songs can sometimes rock and sometimes help you envision the power lines with floaters `so the airplanes don’t get snagged,’ and other visions of Southern country life. Short and punky “Dead FM” is an almost Green Day like song regarding the state of popular radio. “Jessie (She’s Only Gonna Dance With Me)” begins with a sweet falsetto version of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” before it launches into a Ramones like song of simple fifties style straightforward love. Think “Do You Wanna Dance?” or “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” One of the best song titles with the best-written and apt lyrics I’ve heard appear on “Unpopular Mechanics.” The song describes how the narrator was led astray by a mechanic whose diagnosis of his car’s health left him stranded in the middle of nowhere. He ends the song by singing, “Here in the automotive world it’s hard to find a friend.” Genius.
There are no bad songs on Smooth Transitions. It is a debut from a very talented and as yet not very well known band. But I’m sure that’s about to change. The album is accomplished, and a beautiful mix of punk and alt-country. Comparisons are sure to come, likening the band to other cowpunk mainstays like Southern Culture on the Skids and the Cramps, but Ninja Gun can stand on their own eight feet. Get out the pushpins, Valdosta’s on the map!
The Replacements- Pleased to Meet Me