Acid City Nuns – Singles/The Habit Album Sampler Review
“I’m just keepin’ it real, this is how you make me feel…”
While at least a few of you regular readers out there would likely assume that quote comes from me, I can’t take credit for that one – that belongs to the Acid City Nuns. Eye-catching name for sure, the ACN caught my attention on the way in the door, and it’s been pretty rad to check out what these cats have been up to this year with the release of their fusion-based record, The Habit. Most of what you’ll learn about them comes from the music directly – you can give their bio a shot if you’d like to, but chances are you’d probably come away with more questions than you would answers. They “could be anyone” as they’ll tell ya themselves…and the write-up on the page to follow would definitely have just about everyone wondering how they ended up in a spot where a critic like myself is concerned. To be truthful, after all that I’ve read about’em already…I can’t imagine there’s anything I could say that would make a real difference to the Acid City Nuns or matter all that much. Some of my peers out there might cry themselves to sleep on their cushy pillows when it comes to that fact…but me? I’m like right on. You do you, as they say…and of course I’ll keep on doin’ me too…that’s what really makes this world go ‘round.
Technically, the first cut I heard from the ACN was called “Crazy,” where that quote above comes from. Definitely the kind of combination of sound & smart production that gets me listening, that much I can tell ya – the immediate smoothness & professionalism in this band is radiantly apparent right off the drop. From the tightness of the beat & percussion, to the brilliant depths of the piano, keys, and brass, to the essential contributions from the backing vocals, to the cleverness of having multiple voices upfront on the mic/multiple approaches to the m-i-c from singing to rapping in the mix, to the stunning Jazz influence that remains a dominant part of “Crazy” from the moment it starts until its very end – all I could find myself thinking about was ‘what’s not to like here?’ Kind of fascinating and amazing if I’m being totally truthful with ya…it wasn’t so much that any one aspect of the song impressed me any more than any other – it was all about balance here, and relentlessly hybrid vibes. “I’m just keepin’ it real…” – a song like “Crazy” can be an extremely tough sell to the masses with such multidirectional style and all-inclusive sound – at least usually. In most cases, that versatility actually ends up being a challenge for the everyday ears more so than the actual fact that a cut like this also contains at least a lil’ something for everyone – but I’d reckon that the overall fluidity, catchiness, and altogether interesting sound that Acid City Nuns bring to “Crazy” should be more than enough to convince people to take the ride and find out what else is goin’ on here. I felt like you really get the best of both worlds when it comes to something like “Crazy” as a result of all that – it’s the kind of song that’s immensely satisfying to those out there looking for more in their music, but it’s still got enough accessibility in the hooks that those out there just looking for something to vibe to or sing along with would still have just as much of a good time in listening. Truthfully, that’s a rare thing…you don’t end up usually satisfying one side of that scenario without disappointing the other in some way, but the balance in what ACN creates reveals the kind of strengths that have the ability to bring people in to listen through completely different means. As in – the fact that this band is so into what they do, makes it all the more enticing for us to listen to. “I’m just keepin’ it real…this is how you make me feel” Acid City Nuns – and if I felt otherwise, I’d tell ya.
Like for instance, when an intro that’s thirty-five seconds or so drags on a bit like you might find on “The Dusty Road Out Of Town,” I’m usually the only guy in the room that’s gonna say something about it. Which is even weirder when you consider the fact that I’m probably one of the most willing listeners out there in this world too; as in, to me, it’s no problem – but I tend to try to listen from other people’s perspectives as well. “The Dusty Road Out Of Town” to me, sounds like a song that was more or less built around a sound…and the idea takes loose shape around it from there. You get the backwards-beat you’ll hear in the extended intro on the way into this tune…at least that’s what I think is goin’ on there…it honestly could just be the strange effect of a shufflin’ from the drums in the mix, I’m not entirely sure…but anyhow – that’s the real backbone of “The Dusty Road Out Of Town” if I’m being honest with ya. With this being my own first experience with Acid City Nuns, I don’t know what to expect really any more than you do – so in hearing “Crazy” first…you kinda get the impression that ACN is more than inclined to include the kitchen sink within the length of any one structure, and “The Dusty Road Out Of Town” dials that aspect way back to a set of much more bare-bones ingredients and a Jazzy structure that remains in the Jazz gear. Bonus points for the bass-lines in this cut for sure, and the guitar & keys will also reveal several moments of cleverness along the way as well with a bunch of sparkling & shimmering sound that complements the whole vibe they’re workin’ with overall. Like I was tellin’ ya from the beginning here, they’ve got this set up so that they’re free to roam – the beat is the core, as it is in a great many songs of course, but it’s essential to Jazz-based tunes like this and bands looking to be innovative like Acid City Nuns…the reliability in the rhythm section allows the rest of the music to roam, explore, and find all kinds of uniqueness that we can appreciate for its artistic & naturally organic sound.
I got the artwork here for “Undone” on my desktop here…and while it wasn’t included in this handful of samples from their debut record The Habit, I’m guessing that it was likely intended to be, so here we are. I’ve got the space and I’ve got the time, so heck, why not have a listen when I’ve been enjoying myself to this point so far already right? It’s a highly interesting tune if I’m being outright honest with ya – I love the piano on the way in, and the way the saxophones come in to join this song is spectacular. Sound-wise, altogether, it’s just truly engaging stuff – and it’s mixed in such a stellar way that your ears can truly enjoy and absorb every note, tone, and morsel of music they offer ya. If anything, my main advice to ACN is to be as conscious of the message they’re looking to communicate as possible, inside & outside of the music. Seems like a weird comment to make, so let me explain. Basically, my brain works completely on stimulation like most do – except I can be a bit more curious…and when I’m curious, I start to dig. So for me, while Acid City Nuns “could be anyone” as you’d learn from their homepage – this was the track where I learned this isn’t really the case at all. I heard those saxophones start up and I was like, ‘OKAY – WHO are these guys for real if they’re gonna be THIS good?’ – and I was actually surprised that within seconds I was actually able to find out the answer to that. I ain’t gonna blow up their spot here and TELL you all of what I know…the most I’ll concede to ya is that there are five players involved in what you’ll hear and actually two saxophones to go along with the trumpet & trombone for a fully spectacular dose of the brass comin’ atcha – but as far as the layer of mystique that comes along with what you’d read about at their homepage versus other pages online…I think they should preserve that at all costs if I’m bein’ real with ya. To me, that added layer of mystery was massively enticing…part of me wondered if knowing more secrets to the sauce might actually have it not tasting as sweet – and I got scared of that possibility…so from here, even I stopped looking for clues & just let the music play on.
Within the four songs I had as a sample set from The Habit, including this last one I had called “Moreorless,” it was like I had experienced all of Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block in a much shorter timeframe. So while yes, it’s true, the players within ACN could be young, they could be old – that part we still don’t know for sure – I’d be willing to bet the depths of music history & knowledge run extremely deep in this band based on all that I’ve heard. Not just in the skillful musicianship and the exceptional tightness of the way they play on such a unified front – but in the content itself – it reveals a wisdom and diversity that generally speaking, only comes along with at least a lil’ time & experience, shall we say. As in, likely older than younger. Which is fine with me – I’m older than dirt myself, so come and join the party as far as I’m concerned…I’d estimate the average age in this band is likely somewhere between the 45-55 range if I had to hazard a guess, but I could be completely wrong about that. I’m hearing seasoned veterans and professionals at work here – but that’s not to discount the possibility of some creative prodigy in the mix here beating the odds from one of the instruments involved in the mix – I’d imagine if you’ve got the passion & the skills & the desire to use both, then your spot as a player within the ACN is pretty damn secure. “Moreorless” is a solid blend between the old and the new…you get the band’s Progressive, creative, and Jazz-inspired vibes, and you get updates on the sound through heavily filtered vocals that make this project seem like a side-project from Mogwai – which of course, is aces in my books. I could go with a much more obscure reference when it comes to something like “Moreorless” and tell ya it reminds me of something like you’d have found in Scritti Politti back in the day, but I’m not sure how much that’ll help too many of you amazing people out there understand what you’d be listening to by that comparison. Of the four cuts I’ve got here in my sample pack, the most accessible is still likely gonna be “Crazy” with its multidirectional sound offering so much overall – but in terms of balance between the rest of what I found, it seemed like the consistency was nothing short of remarkable. “Moreorless” actually still possesses an insane amount of what’s essentially, entirely single-worthy sound as far as anything Jazz could be considered to be – and for how creatively different & anti-typical a tune like this truly is in comparison to so much of what’s out there, that’s more than a mere accomplishment, it’s a real achievement. To have this much appealing & interesting sound goin’ on is no small feat y’all – the work has been put in here, and the results end up as engaging as you could conceive by any definition…your ears WANT to hear what comes next, because they’ve never heard it before. Of all things, that’s the real beauty in Acid City Nuns – the will & the want to be different is an aspect of their vibe that thrives with exciting ideas & sound in tandem…it’s one heck of a combination of instrumentation and skill, professionalism and passion – and I’m 100% here for it.
Trust me when I tell ya, you’ll find ALL KINDS of stuff that’ll blow your mind in this lineup of nineteen songs on The Habit – just hearing the wild personality on the mic in songs like “Priceless” and “Visually” afterwards would convince anyone that I tells ya the truth y’all – Acid City Nuns are relentlessly interesting and artistically fearless when it comes right down to it, and the diversity of the rest of this set-list will confirm that. I’m a big piano guy personally, so songs like “Sayanku” were certainly for me, and “Mostly Cloudly After Midnight” was a freakin’ joy to listen to – it’s like, nine plus-minutes long or something like that, and it’s as creative & smooth & sensational as an audible experience can potentially even be…for such a lengthy tune, it’s as inspired & ambitious as it is professionally played & entertaining – I don’t know about all of you, but that’s an enticing combo to me. You get to spots like “Armed & Dangerous” and “What I Feel” back-to-back and you realize there’s no way you could predict what these dudes are gonna do next when it comes to their exploratory sound and ideas – but you can expect quality from the performances and production, every single time without exception. Many of these tracks are shorter-than-short – and sometimes “That’s All You Get” – and we’ll just have to live with that, knowing that we’ve got the repeat buttons at our disposal to rectify that issue on our own sides of the speakers. You’ve got cuts like “Gavotte” that explore more traditionally classic themes in a refreshing new way, you’ve got chilled out mellow grooves like “Red Sky Night” that are essential listening, straight up…and you’ve got a truly fun finale in the upbeat piano antics of “Lolligag” at the end to wrap it up with kind of a show-tune style finish with real flair to it. Acid City Nuns are clearly proud to do things differently than the rest based on all I’ve heard – and that’s an attitude, style, and approach that’s more than welcome here on these pages, in addition to these speakers surrounding me, any time.
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