For Fans Of
With influential bands like Hey Mercedes and Braid to his name, it’s pretty much a given that I will be interested in anything Bob Nanna creatively dispenses into the universe. Throw in a little Damon Atkinson and Jack & Ace’s Lauren LoPiccolo, and I’m there. Certain People I Know, one of Nanna’s many musical projects, is comprised of the aforementioned and rounded out by Matt Schuessler and Jeff Dean, so my initial reaction to their self-titled release was a resounding feeling of stoked, followed by, "What could go wrong?". In answer to my naively rhetorical question: a few things, apparently.
Certain People I Know kicks off in a promising manner, with Bob Nanna’s familiar soft vocals washing over a heavier guitar sound on the album’s opener, ‘Neverlasting’. However, it’s the taste of Lauren LoPiccolo’s gentle vocals – albeit incredibly brief – that almost ties the track together. ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ features LoPiccolo more prominently. A memorable chorus, backed by strong percussion and guitar work reminiscent of Modern English’s ‘I Melt With You’, make the song a high point.
‘Strongsuit’ lacks energy, its lugging guitar riffs helped along only by scatterings of LoPiccolo, but ‘All You Gotta Do is Show’ reinvigorates the record, with a lively beat complemented by well-executed harmonies between Nanna and LoPiccolo. Musically, ‘NYE’ and ‘King of Shots’ are highlights of Certain People I Know, both melodically pleasing, but are somewhat tarnished by Nanna’s vocals. His foray into falsetto on ‘NYE’ borders on grating, and his fragile performance on ‘King of Shots’ is watered down in contrast to the song’s pronounced bass, sturdy guitar and crisp drums. ‘Make it Up’ falls victim to a similar fate. The track once again showcases solid percussion, beginning with a simple yet effective beat, but is rapidly marred by muddy guitar and Nanna’s frail vocals.
Lauren LoPiccolo is unquestionably the most appealing aspect of Certain People I Know, her graceful tone providing distinction and an air of honesty. The record’s closing track, ‘How Was the Show? (Politics)’, displays a calming quality, with LoPiccolo’s soothing vocals perched delicately on a bed of arpeggio style guitar. While the song is pacifying, it seems incomplete, creating the illusion of an introduction to something more, and offering discontent when it becomes clear that’s all there is.
In order for me to really enjoy an album, I have to emotionally connect with it on some level – which isn’t just me being pretentious; the listening experience is purely better that way. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to relate to a song’s lyrics, or be impacted somehow by its music, and that’s where Certain People I Know lets me down. I might be seeing things through rose-coloured, nostalgia-shaped glasses, but I don’t recall the same sense of disengagement from a Hey Mercedes or Braid record. Certain People I Know is palatable, to some degree – the songs are pleasant, and I can appreciate it superficially, but the feeling of disconnect is overpowering. Vocally, even Bob Nanna sounds detached. Despite Certain People I Know leaving an unremarkable impression, the band’s members remain intriguing to me – in particular, Bob Nanna and my newfound girl crush, Lauren LoPiccolo – and I will continue to anticipate their future artistic ventures.