Née | The Hands of Thieves (s/r)

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There’s a bit of St. Vincent, some Jenny Lewis, some Kate Bush, yet her voice is a bit wobbly, a bit unsure.

 

 

I’ve been looking for something original in St. Louis, something that succeeds where the horrifyingly boring scream-o, tired death metal, uninspired hip-hop, and endless trail of cover bands that are our local treasures fail. That might have been the most pessimistic line I’ve ever written; time to switch gears. Née succeeds. Née is good. Née is St. Louis now.

I was at a bar the other night listening to a pretty decent jazz band when the guy in the chair next to me struck up a conversation about music. I let him know that I like to write about music, he tells me he’s in a band—this conversation has played out hundreds of times. He asks me what I’ve written about lately and I tell him. “None of that is local, man; no one cares about that shit…”

I’m a guy who prides himself on being polite. He was drunk, I don’t drink, so I merely replied, “Show me something that is local that is as good as what I’ve been listening to lately and I’ll write about it first chance I get.” He rattled off the name of a well-ridden cover band, and I sighed and paid for my Red Bull. Two days later, I actually found what he was wanting, something local that was as good as what I had been listening to. Nee’s new EP is called The Hands of Thieves, and it’s brilliant.

Kristin Dennis can sing—that’s what really stands out on first listen. There’s a bit of St. Vincent, some Jenny Lewis, some Kate Bush, yet her voice is a bit wobbly, a bit unsure. Still, she’s not afraid to croon some pretty prostrating “ooooooo”’s, something that takes courage for a female vocalist in 2011 (you can tell Dennis understands what irony is and what it’s not; that isn’t a strong suit for current pop lyricists). It’s in instances like these, the aesthetic contradictions, that The Hands of Thieves reveals its depth. It’s a delightfully clever collection of five songs, at times banal—bleating a cutesy, “Take me out, take me out of this city”—at times rather insightful—“keep your hands to yourself/ I’ve got more love than I can hold”—at times artistic: the last track, “Hands of Thieves,” is wonderfully written, poetic even.

The influence appendix on this EP could be published as its own little chapbook: Patti Smith, Bat for Lashes, The Knife, Rilo Kiley, Mates of State, Rainer Maria, Fever Ray, Feist—those are the obvious ones. Bruce Springsteen and Conor Oberst might be more appropriate: There is a disaffection here that first points the finger at the person in the mirror. This is heartening without seeming self deprecating.

This is what made the Omaha/Saddle Creek phenomenon important in the early 2000s: They were disaffected, yes, but they wanted to know why, so they looked inside instead of belaboring the tired old “fuck the system” lament. It was an original ethic at the time, and it was quickly lost when Bright Eyes became popular. Née revisits that bravery on this EP, but she turns the dial up a bit. She’s not whiny—you’d better be ready to dance. Née is a fundamentally beat-driven act: Think LCD Soundsystem rather than Rilo Kiley. It’s the mix of sincerity and fronting, smarts and contrived but self-aware sassiness that makes this release a great one. | Braden Abbott

Née will be performing with Humdrum and Tight Pants Syndrome at The Tap Room this Saturday, March 12, 2011; they will also be at the Old Rock House March 24.p

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