The first sound on Naked Gods’ second LP No Jams is a breath. It’s a quick, audibly stressed-out inhale, likely the result of the studio grind and going through multiple takes, an expression of the hope that, “Finally, we might just get this right.” It’s a wholly appropriate beginning when you consider the band’s sound and their position within the N.C. music scene.
Naked Gods are from Boone, a town that isn’t renowned for music. From this inauspicious locale, the quintet have worked slowly over their first five years, synthesizing various strains of rock into a meaty sound all their own. The gruff, mellow croon of singer Seth Sullivan and the group’s touch for prickling pop melodies point towards Wilco’s early years. The immaculate tones of their tangling guitar leads call to mind the fuzzed-out mastery of Built to Spill and Dinosoaur Jr. Their confident delivery comes by way of the Rolling Stones’ swaggering ‘70s, a trait they share with Spoon and the Strokes. Left to their own devices in a town with few distractions, Naked Gods have distilled these influences into potent, five-to-three-minute bursts that zoom quickly through complex melodic brambles without once getting snagged.
Boone is their home, and it’s made them who they are. But it’s a small market, one that lacks a robust appetite for the type of genre-bending rock Naked Gods have grown into.
“We live in a place where there are like two or three other bands that aren’t shitty white-boy college punk bands or Dave Matthews rip-offs,” Sullivan says. “There are only a couple of bands that are like legitimate bands that play shows and release things. We do have to kind of get out. Bands from Raleigh, bands from Charlotte have this awesome ability to go see each other play every week and share practice spaces and see each other at bars and shit. We just have to forge those relationships elsewhere.”
Touring frequently, Naked Gods have aligned themselves with a number of ambitious Southeastern rock bands, playing with them when they roll through their towns, tapping into their fan bases to grow their own. None of these relationships has proven more rewarding than the one they have developed with Virginia’s Invisible Hand. Like the Gods, Invisible Hand twists together myriad rock traditions into a fun and forceful sound. The band’s relationship with Invisible Hand and similar acts in the area has pushed them to constantly evolve, a trait they say is of vital importance to any band that wants to be taken seriously.
“The bands that we all share a common interest in are bands that kind of evolve constantly throughout their career,” Sullivan says. “They didn’t just make six records that all kind of sound the same. I think a lot of bands kind of paint themselves into a corner, and we have just never been very interested in doing that. It probably hasn’t served us that well. I feel like it’s really hard to get behind a band who are trying to figure out their sound and learn something about themselves. We’ve been a band for almost six years, and only in the last couple of years have we actually started making music that is what I would consider the Naked Gods sound.”
Indeed, No Jams is the band’s most realized effort yet. It’s a dense, patiently rendered rock record that moves quickly from one melodic idea to the next without losing its identity as a cohesive collection. Appropriately titled, the album strips away the raucous energy of the band’s tenacious live show, allowing the complexities in these songs to truly shine. Opener “Teenage Colony” starts out as a pretty, but typical rock ballad, bouncing calmly atop a steadily marching bass line covered over with comfortably psychedelic guitar. It all contorts in the chorus. The guitars drop out for a couple seconds, returning quietly before swirling upward in a distorted maelstrom. As with most every song here, “Teenage Colony” isn’t content to stick with one idea for long. This restlessness requires patience, but if you’re willing to pay attention, you’ll find new thrills waiting around every corner.
“Every time we write a song it’s a big experiment,” says guitarist Christian Smith. “It takes us a long time to write a song and arrange it and figure out how to play it. I think artistically, I can see that’s the thing that serves us the best. I think people find it interesting once they realize that it’s not just some dudes playing a couple of chords and swaggering around.”
Sullivan puts it more succinctly: “Once we pop their cherry, they’re in.”
Naked Gods play The Lab on Wednesday.