“We hate this record but I think you’ll like it.” Jeff Giles, the publisher of Jefitoblog and, later, PopDose, wrote to me.
Somehow I wormed my way in to the occasional review for his sites, covering Queen & Adam Ant retrospectives and a product reviewer for his offshoot, DadNabbit.
At first I didn’t know if I should’ve been insulted or take it as an astute observation by someone who was a better and more accomplished writer than I.
I have always fancied myself a reviewer of pop culture, more than a participant. Which is odd, since I make my living IN entertainment and have earned only pittance on the other side.
I had entire articles of mine rewritten for the NYU film magazine because I had referred to Rocky IV as the “fourth entry in the trilogy”. The editor didn’t get it. I still like the joke. And for the shortest time I was a contributor to Home Theater Technology, paid a dollar word (I know, crazy, right? I am convinced that it was because my mother-in-law at the time was friends with the editor-in-chief and he was doing her a favor) to review albums and, one time, I pitched and was assigned 1000 words on Newfoundland Television. “I Want My NTV!” It was a crappy piece about how this one station, way out in it’s own time zone one hour earlier than the east coast of the United States, had all the top rated prime time shows and, if you had an oversized satellite dish (as we did, out in the hinterland desert of Lancaster, CA, meth capital of California) you could get all your Prime Time viewing done by 7PM.
Fortunately, for me and for you, none of these reviews exist anymore. You’ve been spared.
So, I started blogging.
And reading a lot of music blogs.
Which brought me to Jefito. And resulted in that email. They didn’t want me to review it, just thought I’d like it.
I bought the album based on that recommendation and I guess I was vindicated because they went on to massive success with the album Some Nights and the song “We Are Young”. The lead guitarist created Bleachers and became a songwriter for Lorde and Taylor Swift and then band went on hiatus while the members took on the music industry and won.
Aim & Ignite is everything I could want from a rock band in the 21st Century. Confessional lyrics that can bring me to tears, grandiose scope, influenced by Queen and ELO as well as a host of others, and never once sounding like a 2nd rate version of any of them.
Aim opens in similar fashion as Nate Reuss’s first band’s album, Dog Problems. With a overture of sorts. The french cafe sounds of “Be Calm” serves another purpose besides the orchestral arrangements of horns and strings. It’s alien. It’s unfamiliar. It’s foreign.
And that’s the topic of the song. Nate moved (away from his band and his mom) from Arizona to the musical hotbed of creativity that is Brooklyn. And with that move he hooked up with instrumentalist Andrew Dost and Guitarist (and leader of the stellar rock outfit from New Jersey) Jack Antonoff. And the three of them created an indie-rock super group.
Opening the album with something as different, progressive, poppy, operatic and exciting as “Be Calm” suggests that Aim and Ignite will be less a standard issue, next phase of a career and more of group putting it all on the table because, hell, it probably won’t work anyway.
The next track, “Benson Hedges” could have been the next stage that I was talking about. It very easily could have been on (and I believe might have been written for) The Format’s 3rd record that never happened.
Doesn’t matter. It’s great. That song and the brilliant summer single, “All the Pretty Girls”, proves that it was Nate all along that was driving The Format. It would be one thing to resurrect one’s self with a new band and say, “This is what I am doing now. Deal with it. Follow or don’t.” But, Nate doesn’t do that. Whether by design or not, what he’s done is create a perfect album to bring Format fans to, keep THEM engaged and reach out to a larger audience by expanding the palette.
At the end of all this (and everything is a gas, from the mariachi-swing of “At Least I’m Not as Sad” to the lower east side indie rock of “Walking the Dog” to the built in audience rising showstopper “Barlights” with its city horns and gospel chorus) there is “The Gambler”. It’s hard to explain my reaction to the first (and second and third….) time I heard this song. Written in the voice of his mother, the song is a love letter to his parents’ relationship. With his father’s near death (a familiar trope for Ruess fans) and their move to the desert (“to save our only son”), it’s such a moving piece that I am reduced to tears every time I hear it. Each time I’ve seen them live, which is three now, they play it and…yep…tears.
Then I played the song in the car for my wife who wasn’t familiar with the lyrics. She read along as it played and…yep…tears.
The album ends with a self reflective piece by Nate as he ponders the last few years of his life, the new friends, those who didn’t believe in him in the first place. Musically, it’s all over the map, borrowing from Vampire Weekend’s Upper East Side Soweto among other sounds. It SHOULD be all over the map. Nate’s been all over the country and landed in the biggest melting pot in America.
It’s a wondrous thing when the template of a song echoes the sentiments behind the words.
I’m grateful to the guys at PopDose for not digging this album but thinking I would. Cuz they were right.
In every sense Aim & Ignite succeeds.