Ness - You Can't Afford to Feel
Record Label: None
Release Date: June 10, 2008
The music of Chicago's Ness is, at its essence, a kaleidoscope. One minute the band is kicking out Kinks-inspired jams and the next they're churning Pink Floyd-esque atmospheric pop. There's also equal parts Queen, ELO, Burt Bacharach, and Brian Wilson, and if that sounds hard to believe, give the album a try. The nine song You Can't Afford to Feel opens with a classic-rock inspired, guns-blazing, guitar-heavy opener called "Where's Guns?," which runs almost seven-minutes long and turns out to be a sonic avalanche of sound. There's bits of Billy Squier, YES, and Led Zeppelin in this one. It's also the album's biggest anomaly, as most of the record is far more subdued and laid back. Second song "I Intend" hits on the Pink Floyd influence, and it really serves as one of the band's strengths. The song is mid-tempo, laid back, and deliberate. Towards the three-and-a-half minute mark it flattens out and goes quiet before building back up again. It's an effective nuance that's both daring and peculiar. Clocking in at seven-minutes in length, the last two or three serve mostly as instrumental.
On "Somewhere," the featherweight shuffle of Steely Dan comes to mind as the whole vibe is light, airy and bouncy; it's "Reeling in the Years" for the new millennium. "Somewhere" also proves that Ness can write songs that end before the five-minute mark. Finishing up at four-minutes, it is followed up by the three-and-a-half minute "Weary By the Day," which is the band's attempt at balladry, but ends before it ever makes a statement. What comes next is what can only be described as epic, staggering, long-winded and flat-out bizarre. The 24-minute "The Future Used to Be Cool," is a spacey, jam that certainly shows the band's skill and deft cohesion, but it all gets a bit silly after awhile. 24-minutes, for real? That's longer than some EPs.
The band comes back down to earth on "Losing Track of All Things I've Lost," another attempt at mid-tempo balladry that goes for the Steely Dan again. "Pretty White," has a '60s Britpop sound that calls to mind Phil Spector and Abbey Road. "Elena Margaret," is another subdued affair that gives way to a four-minute musical outro. With a finishing time of nine-minutes, it's a bit lengthy but man, is it not some of the most beautiful music on this disc. The album finishes with the toe-tapping, beer-swigging strut of "Goin' Home" that serves as the quintessential summer song: happy, vibrant, and light. It's also a reminder that Ness truly are chameleons, throwing in an array of sounds and sounding vastly different from song to song. Acclaimed music critic Jim Derogatis has hailed the album as being "incredibly well-recorded, musically sophisticated, and emotionally powerful," and his comments aren't dead-on.
Bolstered by chiming piano lines, airy guitars, ethereal atmospherics, and sterling production, the Ness disc is spacey, comfortable, sleepy, and also surprisingly awakening. While the 24-minute jam of "The Future Used to Be Cool," feels a bit out of place and heavy-handed, the other songs stand on their own. Singer Roger Dean has a familiar voice that is inviting, timeless, and slightly British in its affections and intonations (i.e. Ray Davies). The band is rounded out by founding member and guitarist Rick Ness, bassist John San Juan, and drummer Bill Swartz. But of all the members, it's keyboardist Phil Young who provides much of the album's dreamy, hook-laden landscape. For those unaware, Rick Ness was in the seminal Chicago punk favorite Fig Dish, a band that was a veritable tower of songwriting prowess and had a fling with A&M Records. You Can't Afford to Feel sounds very little like the early punk pioneers, but it goes to prove that Rick Ness have continued where he left off, and that with a corps of new bandmates, he's better than ever.