Nate and His Kite – Nate and His Kite and the Artificial Scenery
Record Label: unsigned
Release Date: 2008
Critics, like weathermen, live and die on predictions.
It’s the job of the critic to digest, evaluate, and expel the next in an endless line of trends, fads, and stories of success and failure. The critic's role in the music world isn’t all that different. Sure, we listen to what we like, but more importantly, we often get excited about it and hope that you do too. We do our best to predict what you’ll like and try to cover the musical world accordingly (after all, without users, AP.net would just be a bunch of self-congratulating and all-too-reflexive staff members).
So here’s my prediction: you’re going to go nuts for Nate and His Kite.
How can I be so confident, you ask? Because, somewhat less predictably, this small band from somewhere in the reaches of northwestern Indiana has cruised under the radar despite turning out one of the catchiest and most creative releases in the last couple of years. They’re brash, they’re clever, and they somehow manage to tiptoe on every genre in the book without settling in any of them. The five members of Nate and His Kite also tend to ignore typical song structures, choosing instead to rocket from movement to movement without looking back. It’s so surprisingly fresh and undeniably pleasant that it’s impossible to say no.
The snappy bass-line that strolls onto the stage to open “Sway” seems cordial enough, that is, until the bands rips into a brief and explosive spoken/yelled rant stuffed to the seams with $10 words. Then the organ kicks in, everything slows to a crawl, and we’re all Kumbaya, singing lazily along, swaying to gospel choir "mmm"s. After a quick breath, the band joins in a multi-part a capella verse about an ill-fated ship before the bass groove picks up and we’re warned that “It’s best to turn this ship around/ Our mission here has run aground/ Give up, anchors away.” Oh, and this is only two and a half minutes into the song. We still have a woeful chorus and a more optimistic chorus to traverse. Head-spinning? For sure. Captivating? You bet.
The follow-up, “Porcelain Curse,” sticks to a more straightforward rock rhythm that’s driven by fuzzed out guitars and persistent shakers. The band throws in the occasional gang vocal to switch things up, but this track, like a Take This to Your Grave b-side, succeeds through simplicity. This approach is given the shake as soon as “A Night in Jackson” jangles into view. Written like an upbeat alt-country tune set in a dusty bar (complete with whistles and drunken yells from the band during the chorus), Nate and His Kite relate a tale of boozey friendship on a night to remember. It plays like a movie, but the pure sentiment of celebrating good times is too real to be scripted.
I would be the first to argue that a song laced with video game references and titled "NES <3" would fail and fail miserably. It avoids doing just that courtesy of well-crafted lyrics and unexpected tempo changes and backing vocals. It’s this blend of gritty edge with backing vocals that beg comparisons to show tunes and 1950’s do-wop that makes Nate and His Kite so damned endearing. And speaking of do-wop, try not to smile when “New England Monster Lover” coolly croons a chorus of “ooo-ooo-ooo-wah-wah-wah” over vamped piano. The show tune comparison pops up when the mood goes rag-time with piano, banjo, and spoken-word selections that define the words “old time radio.” Once again, it’s tough to know exactly what’s going on, but it’s impossible not to be entertained.
There’s certainly nothing artificial about Nate and His Kite and the Artificial Scenery. If you’re bored with the usual, need a taste of the eccentric, or just happen to like the cut of my jib, pick up this little-known gem. I’m predicting that you’ll be happy that you did.