When Deerhoof played in Denton this past September, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with drummer Greg Saunier, who has replaced Keith Moon as one of my Personal Drum Gods, face to face. When asked if he was making any music outside of Deerhoof, he raved about the Curtains (whose latest album Iíve already reviewed on this site) and added a brief aside about Nervous Cop. Upon hearing Greg say that the album was a collaborative effort with Zach Hill of Hella, a man who has replaced Damon Che of Don Caballero as one of my other Personal Drum Gods, my interest increased tenfold. Greg keeps up with my reviews (which I consider an honor), so he already knew that my mind was racing with ideas as to what an album forged from the hands of two of my Personal Drum Gods would sound like. ìI canít wait to hear it,î I exclaimed like a hyperactive schoolgirl. Greg apprehensively shook his head and mumbled, ìI donít really know, manÖî I attributed his reaction to mere humility, and anxiously awaited my opportunity to hear the Nervous Cop album.
A couple of months later, I perused the Kill Rock Stars website and read their description of the album. I discovered that it took over a year and a half to make, with lots of rerecording and remixing delaying the process. One sentence read, ìAt last ready for release, Nervous Cop has turned out to be either a surrealistic masterpiece of musique concrete (what Zach thinks) or a total disaster (what Greg thinks).î Now, I knew that Gregís reaction to my enthusiasm was a bit more than a humble faÁade, which made me even MORE anxious to hear the album. Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Nervous Cop. After a week or two of frequent listening and absorption of the sounds contained therein (notice that I used the word ìsoundsî instead of ìmusicî), I believe that I have reached my final verdict. Do I agree with Zachís assessment or with Gregís? Which of my Personal Drum Gods has triumphed in the Battle of Subjective Opinions?
For the most part, evaluating Nervous Cop by describing individual tracks is useless because the whole affair flows like one long song. The track indexing is fairly arbitrary: there are eleven ìsongsî in roughly a half-hour, but by the time the first four minutes have passed, youíre already up to the fifth ìsong.î Anyway, Nervous Cop begins with about thirty seconds of dissonant, cascading harps courtesy of the Pleaseís Joanna Newsome. She delivers the only sounds that are anything close to melodies on the album. After that intro, though, she disappears and is replaced by the drums. Each drummer plays on one side of the stereo spectrum. Thanks to digital editing and processing, the likes of which most likely account for why the album took so long to make, the drumming is so severely clipped and chopped up that each thwack lasts for what seems like a millisecond. If you had no idea what was going on, youíd think that your speakers were completely blown.
As the drumming slowly becomes more aggressive, various unearthly sound effects pop up at random instances. Radio dials are flipped abruptly and various shouts and croons are heard in the background. Joanna returns in the fifth ìsong,î but her playing initially takes a backseat to the cut-up drumming. There are moments in which the avalanche of percussion subsides to give her nimble, expressive plucking prominence in the mix. However, at no point do Joanna and the Drum Gods actually cohere. Even at its most consonant (which isnít very), Nervous Cop still sounds like a competition between college roommates to see whose boom box is the loudest. One person turns up the classical music, the other cranks the Merzbow Satanic-drum-circle remix, and everyone in the whole damn dorm walks around with big cotton balls in their ears.
Newsomeís harp playing is beautiful, and occasionally the Drum Godsí computer manipulation produces some fearsome and purposed volleys of white noise. However, everything on Nervous Cop is so disorganized that obtaining any real pleasure from listening to it is impossible for me. As much as everyone seems to hate standard drum solos, I think that Iíd rather listen to Nervous Copís source material than what Greg and Zach did with it. The Drum Gods beating the crap out of their kits in the same room probably sounded awesome before they chopped it up into twitching pitter-patter. This project had serious potential. If they molded their digital manipulations into something a bit more solid, Nervous Cop wouldíve really been a masterpiece of musique concrete. Unfortunately, though, I have to declare Greg the winner in the Battle of Subjective Opinions.
Oh, well, you can't win them all. At least Hella, Deerhoof, and the Curtains still rule!