Seeing starzzz

Pub date January 28, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Pitchfork Media has sort of become synonymous with junk-food news in recent years, sensationalizing almost every aspect of the independent music world for the hungry masses through dirt-dishing bites on the latest breaking headlines and scale-tipping — or dipping — album reviews. While some may see the Chicago online music publication as a rock-snob tabloid, there’s no denying the influence it’s had upon some independent musicians: artists such as Animal Collective and No Age have collared a kind of A-list celebrity status almost overnight thanks, in part, to the site of music sites.

But when I met with San Francisco group Nodzzz at drummer Eric Butterworth’s Upper Haight apartment, the three seemed averse to any hype they may garner from Pitchfork. When I mentioned that the publication had just reviewed the band’s self-titled, 10-song long-player on What’s Your Rupture? that very morning, the three met my remark with silence. Then Butterworth opined: "Pitchfork is lame, and it doesn’t even matter because that shit is stupid. If you base your musical interests on Pitchfork — fuck yourself."

Fair enough. While Nodzzz managed to capture an above-average 7.6 rating for its efforts, the outfit agreed, as vocalist-guitarist Anthony Atlas put it, that "[Pitchfork] reviews are always kind of contradictory" and "a positive review would be just as problematic as a negative review."

"It’s pretty fucking crazy how many people that goes out to," guitarist and backup vocalist Sean Paul Presley added. "It makes you feel pretty nervous because you already hold your own material pretty close to yourself and you wonder what’s gonna happen when you get a review like that, because Pitchfork is single-handedly responsible for making bands, what bands do well, and what bands sell records. It’s been an auspicious day not knowing what it actually means. I’m on the fence about whether it means anything more than just another review."

This review does come at a point not long after Nodzzz’s "I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana)" single, issued on Butterworth’s Make a Mess imprint. That release ended up on quite a few best-of-2008 short lists. But while the group’s name has amassed a wave of chatter on the blogosphere, Nodzzz have obvious convictions concerning the objectification of its image and the commercialization of its sound — even going so far as to turn down an opportunity to play at this year’s South by Southwest festival.

"I like pop and punk music when they cater to an audience and to fun," said Atlas, who formed the band with Presley and original drummer Pete Hilton in the fall of 2006 after relocating from Olympia, Wash., to the Bay Area for school. "Something about SXSW seems too market driven — kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll tradeshow. There’s a ton of fantastic bands playing, and I’m sure it’s a fun time, but I don’t feel like asserting ourselves in this broader rock ‘n’ roll market is what we’re all about."

Released in November 2008, the album channels the slapdash garage-pop urgencies of ’80s groups like the Feelies and Great Plains. "Is She There" opens the recording with a burst of amp crackle and drum jolt that’s over before you know it. On songs such as "In the City (Contact High)" and "Controlled Karaoke," the bright-eyed harmonies of Atlas and Presley bait you with nagging, sing-along choruses that get lodged in your skull for days on end, while "Highway Memorial Shrine" and "Losing My Accent" smother you in fuzz and chaos with a scrappy, twin-guitar assault of chiming hooks and jangly lo-fi, as well as Hilton’s trash-can rumble.

As Atlas sees it, his band’s fortunes can be chalked up to simply "tunneling through the fog" as each of its "little goals" are accomplished.

"I have no agenda with this band, but I do have goals, and I just see them as they become possible," he explained. "I feel like we have to have a healthy relationship with it because it can just end quickly. It’s so rewarding, but yet it’s a rock ‘n’ roll band — it’s a project with three people. You can’t stake a life on it."