Pure Nonsense – Tonight – Album Review
“Cut the lights and start the show!” #Yessir #WillDo
Moments like this blow my mind, even now. As a guy that has spent more than half his life embedded in the music scene, and nearly a full ten years on these pages of ours now – you run into the occasional common threads that tie us all together, and similar stories that are comparable to others you meet along the way. Which makes sense really…we’re all creative-types, pursuing dreams on a shared path – we’re bound to find experiences that end up giving us somewhat of a déjà vu feeling in what we hear, and quite often in the story of the journey an artist or band will take on their way towards the spotlight. One such tale that never gets old for me…the only one that never seems to ever lose its edge of excitement as the years go by in my opinion…is the story of a band or an artist that finds their way to where they were meant to be all along. Pure Nonsense has that story more or less, if I’m reading their story correctly online…from what it sounds like, it took about 20 years (loosely) for the making of their debut record 20 Years In and finally getting it out into the world back in 2020 (Note: Fabulous timing!). The very fact that they’re here again, only a year later, with an entire set-list stocked full of versatility & shiny brand-new tunes, should tell ya something…it certainly told me something. Pushing play on “Fire” and hearing Tonight roar itself into place straight at the start with such incredible energy, rhythm & rock groove in full-effect…I mean…hell – that tells me this crew found that inspired spark they really needed to believe in Pure Nonsense, you feel me? TWENTY YEARS to get that first record out! A year later – and here we are? C’mon y’all – you know Pure Nonsense has caught the creative vibe without question.
To write about it is one thing – to hear all this in action, is entirely another.
No joke folks…y’ain’t gonna find too many Rock records out there that start half as brilliantly as this one does – “Fire” lights the freakin’ fuse, and Pure Nonsense goes ALL-OUT from the drop of track one, giving you this like…unreal hybrid between the past & the present that’s like the stunning lovechild between the 13th Floor Elevators and the Stone Temple Pilots. Maybe a bit of something like The Kinks or the ol’ legendary Led Zeppelin tossed in there for good measure too, but mainly through the presence & confidence they project…the real Rock-side of their sounds, you feel me? In any event, you’ll get what I’m sayin’ when you hear it for yourself – “Fire” is an absolutely wicked start, where every player involved in this band gets their own moment in the spotlight to shine and the sum of the bands parts reveals something even more spectacular in their energy combined – it’s an absolutely killer opening cut. The balance in the strengths of Mark Kowal (Noise), Dick Darling (Ohs/Las/Screams), and Scott Brooks (Bam! Crash! Thud!) is impeccable off the drop – they played the beginning of Tonight correct with the advantage of its earliest advance single…this is tried, tested & true, and a verifiable SCORCHER! For real – you’ll feel the heat comin’ outta your speakers by the time this first track has ripped its way through’em; it might have taken Pure Nonsense twenty years to get it all going perhaps, but if track one on their second record is any indication of where they’re at now – this band is in extremely good shape. Not even remotely kidding…I listen to a track like “Fire” slide into its most addictive hooks around the 1:30 mark right before the killer solo to follow, and all I can think to myself is HOW? What on earth was keeping this band from making music all this time? And I shake my fist at the sky and curse a bit…because I know how LIFE can get in the way of creativity every day if we’re not too careful. Hearing “Fire” is like hearing a band that has found their way to where they belong, and owning their moment.
All these good things being said, obviously I do kinda wanna murder them a little bit for the beginning of “Something To Lose,” which is the other advance single released prior to Tonight coming out – and they know why that is. Am I saying it’s a bad song? Not remotely…not at all. Ultimately, I GET IT…I know what they’re doing there at the start of this tune…and it’s…ha! Beyond words really…I don’t even know how to explain it…it’s like they’ve thrown in an extra note or pause in the timing on the piano melody, and while there’s no doubt that it’s done completely purposely and is actually really well-played – that same uniqueness that we marvel at might work a bit against them in throwing a few listeners out there completely for a loop trying to figure out what the heck it is they’re actually listening to. Make sense? When everything snaps together, you’ll understand the purpose and intent behind what they’ve done – and if you’re really paying attention on a lyrical level, you’ll get the entire song conceptually for sure. You could make an argument that “Something To Lose” is about getting out there, getting it done, and not worrying about mistakes or whatever might try to hold you back…it’s about finding that courage and just GOING FOR IT…it’s about fighting through any obstacles that could potentially be in your way. As a result, we go from what seems like an awkward beginning for those opening moments, into a bold, confident Pop/Rock combo that continually strengthens from the very start, all the way to its final seconds. And that dear readers, dear friends…is where you have to realize just how amazing the songwriting at work here actually IS – it’s not just the words, it’s not just the music – it’s how those two main elements relate and complement each other on “Something To Lose” – that’s what makes it so damn stellar. The perfection in the vocals also helps…Dick’s got that indie-magic that totally works for me, even if he thinks he’s “pretty bad at everything” – from an outsider’s opinion, he’s getting one hell of a lot RIGHT, and finding that endearing gear in the melody & words that makes it connect to us as we listen. “Scared, unrehearsed, and unprepared” perhaps – but by the end, you realize this whole journey had a destination and a point to make all along…and each time you listen, the attachment to this song just gets stronger & stronger. It’s like…almost straight outta the U2 playbook in some ways…very much like The Killers in the way the chorus comes out…and with just enough of a live-wire electricity in the air from the indie-side of things, like Superchunk invaded Pure Nonsense’s jam-space to rock with them for a minute or two. However you describe it, however you define it or whatever you might compare it to, I’m amazed by the level of clever details and the execution they’ve put into “Something To Lose,” 100%.
In listening to “Trouble,” there’s a part of me that wants to encourage Pure Nonsense to be wary of overcomplicating things when they might not necessarily need to – and there’s a larger part of me that wants to be just about as hands-off here as I’ve ever been, to leave this band to their own extraordinary creativity…because they CRUSH songs in so many remarkable ways. There are many, many elements of “Trouble” that I think come across brilliantly, and a few spots where it felt like dialing-back a melody like this might have been a bit more suited to it…but when you reach the fireworks of the finale with the backing vocals of Miss Geist giving you the greatness and raising the stakes by the end, it’s hard to argue with the way this song is structured and progresses. To me, the main strengths of “Trouble” were right there in the verses…I felt like Pure Nonsense knocked that part right outta the park. As for the chorus, I felt like that’s a solid example of an idea I like, but perhaps just a bit wide of the mark for the way it all came out…the kind of hook that works, but seems to be missing that needed spark to rival what we hear in the verses surrounding it. This happens every so often though…we can out-write ourselves from verse to chorus or vice versa occasionally – but that really doesn’t end up always being the defining factor in how we listen on the other side; a moment can make an entire song worthwhile to listen to. I dig the chorus well enough…it works – but the verses of “Trouble” have the real magic & were the main reasons I kept on coming back to this song each time. Writing/sound-wise, they kinda remind me a bit of something like the Gin Blossoms or Toad The Wet Sprocket from back in the day…that endearing Pop/Rock energy & melodic combination that always finds a way to work its way onto your playlists. I’m still not fully convinced that Superchunk isn’t still hiding in the corner to lend a hand every so often…there’s something about Dick’s voice that really has a wonderful similarity to the Indie spirit and energy their singer has.
“Old Soul” brings their sound closer to a combination of Pop/Rock/Folk…maybe we just call that real Indie and leave it at that…six or one half-dozen of the other if you ask me. Anyhow. I think a couple things can be true here. One being, I think “Old Soul” is a solid tune, and the other being, I think it might take a couple spins before it makes the same impact that the first three cuts generate more immediately. What I don’t want people to miss out on however…well…I don’t want you to miss out on any of this really…“Old Soul” could perhaps use a tiny polish in a few scattered moments melodically here & there, but that rawness & unfiltered creativity seems to be part of Pure Nonsense’s charm too – in any event, the lyricism in this song is so freakin’ stellar that y’all better pay attention and listen up! They’re tellin’ it like it is through this nostalgic tale…and the details are straight-up immaculate in the words Mark’s penned to this tune. Lines like “I say the better time, the seedier the bar” – or my favorite that comes right in the roll through the most magical moment in the finale verse of this song, which is brilliant word-for-freakin’-word all the way through – check this out: “None of our heroes would call themselves stars, we write all the best songs on beat up guitars, we’ve got dirty hands and dirtier cars, and spend our evenings with scotch and cigars. Our backs ache for working hard all day, we never listen to what politicians say, and God doesn’t care in which way you pray, all that matters is that you live the right way.” That’s epically insightful and stunningly well-written – and just as perfectly performed. “Old Soul” reminds me a bit of the music we’ve been finding from our own local band here in Ottawa called Outfielder…there’s such a stellar, humble, and sweet vibe that really works in their favor on this song. Just enough of a hint of a down-home vibe too in pairing with the lyrics; it’s has the unique, raw melodic magic you’d find in the early 90s from bands like Soul Asylum, or even more comparable, Golden Smog.
Ultimately, I feel like the chaps in good ol’ Pure Nonsense here and I would have quite the conversation about what we have in common with the music we listen to over a pint or two. That’s the kind of more intangible element that defies description…I can’t quite tell you why I end up as attached to a song like “Bitter Ends” as I do…it’s just got that natural magic in the melody that I really wanna hear, all the time. Plus, “and this could get really bad, with these two best friends I have…gasoline and cigarettes” is easily gonna go down as one of the best lines of this year by the time it’s all said & done. What I haven’t heard so far, is a song on Tonight that I feel like wouldn’t make a memorable impact on ya in some way, shape or form – each cut’s got something massively redeeming about it that you can’t help but become more addicted to this record with every spin. Do I think everyone out there will feel the same way I do about this particular cut? Maybe yes, maybe no…honestly, I don’t know if I do know that…I think it’s got a ton of appealing hooks within it, and I felt like “Bitter Ends” continually surprised me with how they were able to raise the stakes on a melodic level, revealing extremely clever twists along the way that kept tweaking this tune in the right direction as it played on. This band’s got incredible depth in their ideas and what they can do…Mark’s ‘noise’ is right on the money if you ask me, and the Scott’s ‘bam! crash! thud!’ is perfectly suited for what this band needs energy wise to drive it all forward with precision and passion. Hittin’ that stroll through the melody in the vocals around that first minute is nothing short of magnificent – Dick’s got such a genius way of writing and great range of what he’s willing to do when it comes time to perform. These guys all bring it when it comes time to record; the results speak volumes.
I was never quite sure about what it was about “Spaceman” that I kept feeling like I was resisting. With an album as versatile as Tonight is, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t have just as much of a place inside this lineup as any other track on the record…but I guess that’s the conclusion I eventually drew to. Solid cut, no doubt about that, but I was never really sure it fit this whole lineup as much as the rest seemed to somehow. Much the same as the first time she showed up, Miss Geist puts in such a sensational performance that you just wanna stand up and cheer by the end of it all…and that first launch into the chorus really hit the mark for me too. As always, there’s still plenty to love here – I really dig the low-end on the drums as they hit the pre-chorus, and it felt like they got the most out of the main hooks of the chorus between the vocals & the backing vocals from Miss Geist & Anthony Retka. “Spaceman” has a bit of that “highway to the danger zone” feeling to its speed and the vibe of its verses, but not in an unwelcome way or anything too similar in sound…each of these tracks have something undeniably redeeming about’em, whether or not you love every single moment in any song is way beside the point . The execution from performance to production is consistent in its quality, their focus & energy continues to be in all the right places – beyond that, it’s all about personal preferences and what songs speak to us the strongest, that’s the reality. If you were to tell me that “Spaceman” was your favorite cut on this record, I’d give ya a high-five and tell ya “right on” – there’s every reason that it COULD be – Pure Nonsense remains committed, passionate, and confident in what they do, and the appeal in all that, translates to us on the other side of the speakers within every song they’ve put onto Tonight.
I probably felt a bit similar towards “Sarah,” with the exception that it felt like it fit the record a bit more overall…other than that, it’s the kind of idea I’d definitely encourage, even if I was never fully sure on whether or not they got everything outta this one. The facts are, “Sarah” is one of the most major departures in Tonight’s lineup in terms of its DNA, incorporating all kinds of strings from Scott, violin & viola from Danish Ali, and cello from Polinakermesh. So on the one hand, you get a noticeable uniqueness in that sense…there’s always value in that kind of switch & transition, we hear that as listeners and it’s gonna be something that everyone notices. Writing-wise…this would be a bit tougher to say it compares to the level of what we’ve experienced so far I suppose…it’s not so far off that it’d turn you off by any measure, but yeah…maybe just missing a little bit that inspired spark we hear in the rest of the set-list, or the natural ease of which they navigate the band’s normal genetic makeup. Kind of like a low-key Weezer in a way…so if you know anything about me, you know I’m not really complaining, just observing…I dig the melody, I dig the musicianship, I dig the vibe…there’s just a little something that seems to feel like there’s a bit left on the table for Pure Nonsense to have potentially mined out of this song or explored further in some way. Sometimes that’s the result of being outside of our element, sometimes that’s the result of newer material, sometimes that’s just simply the way it goes & end of story – I never turned “Sarah” off, or turned it down, but I turned “Fire” UP, every single time. We all like what we like and love what we love. Typically, “Sarah” is much more naturally suited to what I’d normally dig in a melodic Indie-Rock combination, and “Fire” would be a bit more outside of my usual diet I guess…but in this particular case, I felt like the situation was reversed. We’re all being spoiled for choice here – I’m only really comparing Pure Nonsense to themselves despite making the occasional comparison sound-wise…there’s no song on Tonight that you won’t find some sort of real attraction to.
Having said that, not every song has to recreate the wheel either; it doesn’t work like that to begin with, nor should it really be the goal with every track you’ll ever write. I think there is room in a few of these tunes for Pure Nonsense to evolve and grow, which is always a great thing in my opinion…they kind of flip between like, astounding depth in their lyricism and other moments that come out feeling a bit like they went roaming for that word that rhymes as opposed to saying what they might really wanna say. I felt a bit like the latter half of that scenario got the best of them a bit on “Someday” – though I’d be the first to tell ya that they got the absolute maximum outta the chorus on this cut as well. All-in-all, that’s what clinches this cut for me…any criticism I might have had practically goes right out the window when I hear the chorus of “Someday” and the surge of the energy that comes along with shifting into that moment…it’s brilliantly performed. The drums are essential to this cut without question…I dig the sparkle too, don’t get me wrong…but the drums play a really rad role in this track that’s so much more than simply keepin’ the beat, you dig? Listen to how they work in the chorus…the drums are crushin’ it! Admittedly, they all are though…I could go on about this, but I’m sure you get what I’m gettin’ at here – the chorus was where the magic in “Someday” was for me. Shout-out to the bridge too though – that’s actually a really stellar moment in this cut, and when was the last time you remember someone out there shoutin’ out the bridge, right? For what’s been deemed Pure Nonsense, they’ve got great ideas.
The title-track of this record is quite interesting, and one of the most politically-inclined you’ll find, with its finger on the pulse of what many people are feeling out there around the world, right here, right now. As I’ve mentioned more than a few times on these pages of ours already, the pandemic era is going to show up on albums & songs for many, many years to come…and it’s gonna be damn near impossible for anyone to steer clear of that given how much art & music documents life here on earth. I’m inclined to say I dig this tune though…I felt like this came out as one of the more complete cuts in the middle of the album – and personally, I really liked that I wasn’t quite able to make out what side of the fence or political spectrum Pure Nonsense might be coming from. I think that there COULD be subtle clues that might fill you in on that…lines like “can’t you see the storm is coming” could very well be taken as a nod to the right…but you could cite the call for change & action as significantly left too – there’s a balance in the writing that keeps a track like this right in the interpretive grey area where we’ll all do what we all do anyhow, which is internalize what we hear, and let it suit the narrative in our mind. Pure Nonsense is very much in the most Weezer-esque version of themselves here, but this is a suit that fits them remarkably well…all-in-all, “Tonight” is a highly satisfying track to listen to & mull over…and hopefully, you’ll hear that call to action, understand what they mean, and let that inspire the spark in YOU to make the changes we need to more forward from here. “We can’t sit along the sidelines anymore,” as they say…and they’re completely right about that; power is set to shift back to the people. Bonus points for the lead guitar appearance by Doug Bowen…dude crushes the solo and the entire crunch in this song is a perfect pairing with the harmonic vocals, warm organ glow in the background, and intentionally inspired angst fueling the fiery spirit & attitude you’ll find in the lyricism of the title cut.
The razzle & dazzle of real meaty guitar chops & hooks will grab your attention at the start of “Innocent Man” – the tone is equally spectacular as you cruise past that first minute into the solo too…good gravy-boat lighthouse, that sounds EXQUISITE y’all. Soulful stuff too…I really like the pairing between Dick and guest-star Roxiie Reese, their vocals complement each other extremely well. From its piano melody, to the vocals in tandem along the way, there are plenty of reasons to dig the stylistically slick vibes of a song like “Innocent Man,” and just as many reasons to appreciate the message they’re sending here too. I’m making sure to mention all these things I love about this tune – including the punch into the peak of its energy around the 2:25 mark as well – because I don’t want this next part to get lost in translation. They’re creating an important tune with something significant to say, and that is ultimately it’s most universal quality…we’ll all hear “Innocent Man” and know what Pure Nonsense is singing about for sure. So now having said all that good stuff – can we talk about the absolutely freakin’ GENIUS ending they’ve put into this tune? I appreciate your permission – thank-you! No joke folks, it’s an undeniable highlight in their creativity that shows up here at the end…almost to the point where, you wonder if they ended up creating an escape route for themselves in the finale of this track before things got straight-up outta control. Because that surge into the energy around the 2:25 mark is truly something to start with – but I swear, only twenty seconds later, you’ll legitimately be wondering if they can keep this ship on course before it goes crashing right into the rocks with the way things ramp up – and RIGHT at the very moment that thought occurs, the song wraps itself into the garble of a tape being eaten, brilliantly. I know the final seconds of a cut aren’t exactly what everyone out there is listening for, or would consider to be as significant of a creative highlight as I think it is – but I’m tellin’ y’all…there are so many clever details added into the songs on Tonight that multiple spins aren’t only warranted, they’re 100% crucial.
Again, the kind of creativity in the sound of a song like “She Wanted Cowboys” should be fully encouraged. I like what they’ve got goin’ on here for the most part – the hooks of the chorus and the song’s finale keep me onboard here, in addition to the guest-stars in the instrumentation with Danish Ali making a return to the record, joined by Polinakermesh on cello once again. Lyrically I’m a bit on the fence about it…it feels more like…the songwritery-type of tune…crafted, but not quite as attached as some of the rest of the songs seem to have in that personal regard. Metering-wise…don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the stylistic choices that are being made…but at the same time, the removal or addition of a syllable here or there would make life so much easier for Dick too, as opposed to having to speed up every so often to include everything he wants to say, or drag out a word to say inside the bars. This is where I’d probably advise something along the lines of making sure what suits the song remains the focus…a delicate moment in time like this could benefit from a softer touch in the melody & flow of the vocals that come along with it. “She Wanted Cowboys” is still a quality tune – I might want or point out this or that, but I’m just another dude with an opinion and I’ve never claimed to know anything more than you do – I just write about it more. The piano works well, the vocal tone is great, the additional instrumentation is stellar…I enjoy listening to this tune and quite often appreciated the kind of contrast the extra bounce the vocals seemed to bring to the music at times too…I’m just doin’ what I always do…musing out loud, being objective, theorizing on what Pure Nonsense could do in the future…
Charlie Miller…my MAN…where have YOU been all my life? What a sensational trumpet solo on the final track “Best Of Everything” to finish Tonight with some authentic flair in the mix for ya to dig on! Lots of uniqueness in this last cut – most notably, with the lead vocals shifting to guest star Samantha Kennedy, but also with Alex Colista on the alto sax, John Raleeh on trombone, and Toby Kmet on tuba, with Drew Schultz looking after the brass arrangement, in addition to lending his talents to the percussion as well. “Best Of Everything” has just about a million things working well in its favor from the colorful brightness of the sound, to the invitational & welcoming vibes that creates, to the advantage of two stellar singers, to the sentiment expressed within the emotion, lyricism, and spirit driving this tune. Personally, I’m into it, and for the multiple reasons I’ve just highlighted, among many more. My gut tells me that there’s still a bit of room for it to grow, expand, and evolve a bit over time…like, “Best Of Everything” could easily become a massively memorable moment from a live stage that would have the whole place up on their feet and cheering in the right finale scenario, drawing out the instrumentation even further, raising the stakes of hitting those big vocal moments with full power & conviction. I felt like Samantha came out instantly sounding pretty good, and by the time the music filled in surrounding her at about fifty seconds in, I became convinced she’s had the magic inside her all along, just waiting for a moment like this to let it out. Ultimately, that’s a lot of what “Best Of Everything” is really all about – embracing that who we are, and finding that strength & courage to make our dreams a daily reality. “My cage is open, I am free…” becomes an extremely powerful line and memorable highlight in this song as a result of knowing that…it kind of sums up the statement a record like this has been making all along in my opinion. Tonight has been a full ride through unfiltered creativity in multiple forms from its start to the very end…Pure Nonsense has that irresistible spirit real artistic freedom, and it’s 100% addictive.
Gorge yourself further on Pure Nonsense by visiting their official site at: https://purenonsenseband.com
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