Holy moly, this thing is a lot of fun. Four songs, two of which don’t even get past the 2 1/2-minute mark. A complete running time of way less than 15 minutes. It’s fast. It’s groovy. It’s unapologetic. It’s abrasive. It’s inspiring. And it’s everything a great EP needs to be: quick and to the point.
Seaknuckle’s “Nailed It” is a tour de force through everything that’s great about post-indie-rock. Recorded over a weekend in Baltimore, the urgency here bleeds through each note as though it’s the last time these guys will ever be allowed to play music again. For a quick four-song introduction to the world, it’s hard to imagine a more assertive effort.
It starts with drummer Colin Shultzaberger’s thundering distorted drums as the infectious “Love” begins to take shape. Guitarists Joe Jalette and Jon Phelps bounce off each other with ease, one of whom provides a surf-rock riff throughout each refrain that winds between spastic drums with confidence and ease. When Phelps, who doubles as the quartet’s lead singer, insists that love is around him (with the help of some expertly placed gang vocals), his soft pitch sounds as though it’s the only comforting tone clashing with chaos all around him. By the time everyone starts chanting the song’s title as it wraps up, it’s impossible to stay seated.
That same formula grabs hold on the next track, perhaps “Nailed It”’s best moment, “It Won’t Last.” Led to the fire by Matt Dabson’s silky smooth bass noodling, the approach is more subtle, yet no less spastic. Once an electric guitar doubles over the low end and Shultzaberger’s laid back beat gains momentum, you can tell this simmering flame is ready to explode. And explode it does as Phelps asserts in his pouty shout, “’Cause all this fun, it won’t last, it won’t last,” a blaze of electricity dominating the scenery.
Two things then go on to seal the deal of greatness: 1) the syncopated high-pitched “whooo-hooo-hooo-hooos” that split choruses and feel more like a taunt than anything. And 2) the cut-time chorus out of the bridge, a formula that was at one point made popular by bands like New Found Glory. Seaknuckle are their own breed, however, and the respite from the aggression here feels like sinking into a warm bath after a blistering cold day. It’s a perfectly placed piece of pop from Shultzaberger and not only does it keep things interesting, but it also proves that these four guys aren’t thoughtlessly piecing together guitar chords and percussive grooves. Instead, their devils lie in the details.
The only real slip up comes in the form of “Echilon Machine.” Part of Seaknuckle’s appeal is their ignorantly acerbic approach to songwriting. It’s in your face. And they don’t care. On the EP’s finale, however, the quartet slows it down with mixed results. Phelps’ croon still holds serve throughout, and the sparse guitars are smartly placed in and out of what’s supposed to be groovy verses, but there’s a sloppiness to the performance that brings the competence level down a notch. It would be easy to blame Shultzaberger for a few kick drum mis-hits, but the truth is that the song as a whole simply feels out of place next to its much more entertaining and much more biting brothers. This band can do a lot of things well. Slowing it down in favor of a more of a radio-rock feel is something that still needs work.
Any shortcomings are immediately forgiven, though, when you take “Dodecahedron” into consideration. Assuming their position right back in front of your face, the song is the best example of how self-aware these guys are as Phelps turns a longing tale on its head by eventually exclaiming “This is a disco beat,” right before — you guessed it — a disco beat kicks in. It’s a minor flash of genius that should make any listener a believer, if only for how blatantly fun and absurd it is. Coming out of a salsa-themed back-beat that carries the verses, you feel like you don’t need to know a thing more about any of the guys in this band to know exactly what they might be aiming for.
And what they were aiming for with “Nailed It” appears to be simple: a take-no-prisoners eruption of fun and song craft and ability and wit. Or, more directly, a set of songs that could be the soundtrack to an all-around great night. You can waste days roaming the streets of Frederick for a band that will give you a more mischievously enjoyable time listening to their music. Nobody will come as close as Seaknuckle sounds here.
“Nailed it” is only the beginning.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***