No Surf Music


The No Surf Review




June 7, 2011


Nick 13: Nick 13

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Nick 13, going it alone, and somewhat overdressed for hanging out in the Mojave Desert.

After years as the lead singer, songwriter, and frontman for psychobilly band Tiger Army, Nick 13 has decided to issue a solo record, and an eponymous one, at that. It’s rare but not unheard of for a band’s sole driving force to issue a record on their own, and when they do it’s almost always for the same reason: they’re tired of the niche that they’ve worked themselves into with their main project and want to branch out into new musical territory. That’s the case here. These sedate, mostly acoustic, pedal-steel-driven songs would have absolutely no place on the angst-ridden insanity that is a Tiger Army album, so Mr. 13 decided to put them out under his own brand.

This project is being billed as an album, but that’s a complete misnomer due to the laziness of label publicists and music critics who long ago forgot how to do their jobs (which is why No Surf started in the first place). It is, in fact, straight Western music, and only relates to country at all if one considers Western a sub-genre of country (as I do) instead of a genre of its own. The “alternative” in was supposed to denote an influence of rock on country music, so if this counts then that term has completely lost all meaning. I can’t imagine anything that’s further from rock.

Unfortunately, the best thing about this album may be its cover. “N13” has been stylized to form a spade, as in a deck of cards. This is surrounded by intricate six-shooter brackets with roses in each corner. Beyond the flowers, the edges are darkened in a circle pattern, giving the appearance of age as in the worn sleeve of old vinyl or even of burning. The whole thing is made up as a mock woodcut, and the design is beautiful.

The music contained within this design is just as flowery as the rose petals on the outside. Instrumentally, it is intricately woven and well played, with the pedal steel used to good effect on almost every song. Guitars, fiddle, stand-up bass, and banjo add to the framework, and come together beautifully.

The problem is found in the vocals. I won’t say that Nick 13 is a bad singer, because he’s not. He’s just indifferent. After all the work that was obviously put into crafting the music on this album, the vocals seem to be an afterthought. They don’t grab you. They don’t repel you. They’re just kind of there. More than just the vocal style (which is often reminiscent of Freddy Fender, so much so that at times I thought I detected a Spanish lisp), the lyrics themselves are just not at all engaging. They are often lost in the expansiveness of the music, and when they are clear they’re nothing to write home about. This is the first album I’ve ever listened to in which none of the lyrics struck me as quotable, either for good or for bad.

I’m no huge fan of instrumental albums, but this music would be better served as the soundtrack to an epic Monument Valley Western rather than the background to some ill-conceived singing. In fact, musically this is a very powerful album, with a great classical Western feel, often featuring big, slow-picked guitar and horse-clodding bass with the pedal steel howling beautifully overtop. Any positive factors contributing to the rating for this album are based entirely on its musical quality. Too bad the singing gets in the way.

If you’re looking for the psychotic country of the Tiger Army, you won’t find it here, and if you’re looking for, this is not it. If Bad Blake is your hero and you love Western music more than your own family, you may want to have a listen. Otherwise, avoid Nick 13 and spend your time and money on something that has a chance of entertaining you.


Unless you're looking for a sleep aid, don't buy this album. For some great tunes, try Ha Ha Tonka's Death of a Decade!
mp3 cd vinyl


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