February 15, 2016
Released On April 30, 2013
Released By Equal Vision Records
There are lots of reasons to write about music. Enthusiasm–the desire for others to hear what I just heard–is usually what gets me typing. But sometimes that desire crosses over into something else–something that borders on activism. I’m reminded of the time just before Arrested Development was canceled, when faithful fans like my sister were urging friends and family to start watching in an effort to keep the show going.
I was in similar headspace in the days after Golden Rules For Golden People came out. That was April of 2013. I couldn’t have known Pretty & Nice was a little over a year from announcing an indefinite hiatus, though I interviewed the band just after Golden Rules was released and heard about their frustration with some of the business-y aspects of the preceding two years. (Apparently the album had been done for some time before they could share it.) What I did know was that I wanted absolutely everyone to hear it.
I made a somewhat wacky but hyper-logical case for the album back then. I wrote 1,200 words about how valuable the album is–how, pound-for-pound, it’s packed with more music than most albums you’ll find. All of the stops and starts, melodic digressions, tiny finishing touches, and bold left turns…there’s simply more to enjoy in each minute of a Pretty & Nice album–especially Golden Rules. It was my way of shouting “This is an objectively good album” despite knowing deep down that musical value is, of course, subjective. (That argument may have even been ironic, given “Money Music.”)
I’m more convinced than ever that everyone needs to hear the album, but I’ll keep it subjective this time around. Since so much of my enjoyment of Pretty & Nice is derived from the little things–idiosyncrasies that demonstrate the care with which the band records–I thought I’d close with a list of my favorite deliberate details from each Golden Rules song. Maybe you’ll get as much enjoyment from them as I have.
“Stallion & Mare” – The three-note guitar run that introduces the abbreviated second verse.
“Mummy Jets” – Acoustic guitar temporarily driving the last chorus.
“Critters” – Shaker during the racecar instrumental break.
“New Czar” – Downward pitch-shifting on “Jennifer.”
“Q_Q” – How “I’m behind” and “I’m beside” break the ascending pattern in the “All the time” sections.
“Gold Fools” – How the synth snare sounds like a signal that’s gradually breaking up.
“Yonkers” – The cheeky pair of tones that end the song like they’re telling you it’s time to start leaving a voicemail.
“Money Music” – The rephrased, counter-melodic “We are all instruments” in the coda.
“Kill The Beast” – How the vocals take on a completely different texture for “I’m the king of the clowns.”
“Golden Rules” – The depth created by the percussion that kicks in with the bass.
“The Frog” – Extra string noise that sounds like a ticking clock during the “Vitamin D” section.
It’s a safe assumption they spend most of time on stage (and in studio) in this position.
Six years ago, I got to see Pretty & Nice open for Title Tracks at Gallery 5 here in Richmond, VA. They were as hyper as the upbeat tempo of most of their songs. That night, I picked up Get Young, but somehow over the years they…well, for lack of a better phrase, fell off my radar. Golden Rules For Golden People is not a departure from their power pop with a twist of psych sound, but it is a record only a seasoned band could have produced. While not overtly political, the album to me feels like a glass-half-full reaction to living during the Occupy Wall Street movement. There are lots of references to money, gold, and value that often are paired with power or leverage. My favorite track, “Money Music,” feels like the end of the album arc before a short reprise. The theme hinted at the opening of the album is now embellished. “We are all instruments / ringing out to live / we are all apart of this.” When counterpoint melody is dropped on top of the theme, I can feel my hand start reaching for my wallet. Where can I get a vinyl copy? (Editor’s Note: Buy it here.)
Remember that cat moshing video? Well, just replace said cats with Yorkies, add some impertinently catchy melodies and we’re getting there. If you need a poppy, pick-me-up affair with strings of saccharine sequiturs, then this is your stop. Warning, it may be too perky for some moods, in that case avoid it, or don’t. The title of track five is an emoticon. Anyway, these guys are channeling some A.C. Newman to great effect while conjuring one serious beach party. While the vibe never veers very far off it’s trajectory, the snappy production includes enough depth and quirk to keep ears piqued. By the time we get to album’s core, “Money Music,” we get hit with a rollicking groove that would feel at home behind those 70s disco dancer videos on YouTube — and let’s upgrade those Yorkies to Husky puppies and throw in some styrofoam peanuts to play in. A cadence tangent comes with “Golden Rules,” a joyfully choppy piece a la Animal Collective where the melody and beat dance around each other and fall down together in a heap of fuzz guitar and sighs. The lyrics emanate from a stream of conscious kaleidoscope. May I go to this “monocle mystery zoo” please? All in all, Golden Rules For Golden People proves a glorious pop yelp of youthful spirit and exuberance. Sondre Lerche and Starlight Mints fans should take heed.
About 10 minutes into Golden Rules For Golden People, I became crushingly aware that I was out of weed. I can only imagine that the delightful third album by Pretty & Nice would be even more charming in an elevated state. This is psychedelic pop. But it’s also chip tune. But it’s also surf rock. And hey, is that a trip-hop beat right there? This “throw it all in the blender” approach can often just result in a frothy mess, and admittedly, at the beginning of the album, the various ingredients weren’t gelling for me. But by the end, the Boston trio had whipped up a pretty delicious smoothie. The entire album is vibe-y and works well as a unit, but I’ve got to point out a pair of absolute standouts. “Gold Fools” distills the genre mashup brilliance of the band into 90 seconds of pop perfection. It starts off as a hippie beach jam that’s then augmented by this crazy boom-bap hip-hop wave that is just begging to be ridden by someone like Chance the Rapper. The other highlight for me was album closer “The Frog“. This song is pure joy, with its “Vitamin D” refrain sounding like a ray of aural sunshine that really hit the spot on this freezing weekend. Makes me wanna hug the nearest person. Well, even more than usual.
A citation may be needed on this, but I’m fairly sure Pretty and Nice are the result of some insane The Fly-like experiment where Passion Pit and The Flaming Lips were amalgamated together with science. When listening to Golden Rules For Golden People, those two bands stood at the forefront of my mind prominently. This is a record you want to put on before a Friday night out. Full of power pop and high energy, the album could comfortably sit between Passion Pit’s Gossamer and The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots on any indie dancefloor playlist. The best track on the album for me is “Yonkers“, a multi-layered surf-pop behemoth that is disorientating joyful. It transitions from pumping brass to electronic sounds with a choir thrown in too for good measure. Other highlights are the wonderfully titled “Q_Q” and “Golden Rules“. The biggest compliment I can give Golden Rules For Golden People is that it provides a unique high most albums fail to produce. When listening to this album throughout the week, I’ve wanted to dance, or run, or both. The album pumps you up and gives you 34 minutes of blistering raw joy.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
Because of course they’re going to play in front of a circus themed bar.
It’s so funny to me that this album is on Equal Vision Records; back in the mid-90s, that label was the go-to for Krishnacore, and I loved all the early chunky hardcore records by 108 and Shelter that came out on EVR. If you’d told me that in 2016 I’d be getting down to an EVR band that sound like prime 60s-retro psych-pop, I would not have believed you. Yet here we are; and Pretty & Nice even kick off this album singing about how we’re all instruments of God, so I’m gonna pretend they’re singing about Krishna there, just to amuse myself. Anyway, this is a lovely slice of mannered psychedelia that hits the same nerve tapped by the first two Shins albums. Things never get too heavy or out of control. Instead, the psychedelic touches come from the brightness of the guitars and the slight vocal effects that make everything just a little low-key trippy. This record simultaneously reminds me of classic 60s pop LPs like Odessey & Oracle by The Zombies or Something Else by the Kinks, and of the most successful modern, punk-informed takes on that era–at this point I’m thinking not just the early Shins, but also XTC side project Dukes Of Stratosphear (look that one up if you don’t know it). And there’s even a slight bit of post-hardcore riff structuring sticking out from underneath all that, to remind me that yes, you really are still listening to an Equal Vision release.
I had no pre-conceived notion of what to expect when I clicked upon “Stallion & Mare” the first track from Golden Rules For Golden People by Pretty Nice. The first listen to the entire record was mesmeric as the music and lyrics felt like they were trying to trip over each other in almost a chaotic frenzy, but in the most controlled artistic way possible. What I find transfixing about this album is every time I think I had the band figured out, they change the angle without a moment’s notice with the lyrical delivery or frenetic pace of music. The record itself flashes past in a shade over 32 minutes meaning each song packs a punch, little pockets of lyrics resonate immediately through a variation of repetition and word interplay. I found myself wandering around the house or at work humming the first few moments of “Money Music” and continually repeating the words “lock it in”. In just a few days, the album crept under my skin to the point I have gone back to listen to it for my own enjoyment. Not just so I could write a few short paragraphs that might make other people want to listen to a fantastic piece of pop art. Whist each listen of the album hurtled along it feels like each song should perhaps be reminiscent of a better well-known artist or band that was an inspiration or contemporary. The moment fleets though and I can’t help feeling Pretty & Nice sound is uniquely their own.
Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia
While I appreciate music in so many forms, what I really want is good melody. Melody that haunts you, melody that you sing in your sleep, melody that goes right through your ear and down your chest to stick your heart with its giant arrow. OK, maybe that’s gross, but it’s what I pictured when listening to Pretty & Nice’s Golden Rules For Golden People. Each song is very tightly structured–there’s nothing that seems out of place or awkward–almost like a mini electro-orchestral composition. The “ah-ah-ahhhhh” breakdown in “Yonkers” is definitely one of those arrow-to-the-heart things. That whole song is The Strokes meets “That Thing You Do!” which is so much better than it sounds. I was expecting this to sound like their 2008 record, Get Young, which was solid energetic power pop with a keyboard, but nothing I hadn’t heard before. This record, however, is essentially an artier version of Carl Newman’s songs off Brill Bruisers, sweetly complicated and melodic as hell. I’m honestly not sure how I missed it, but I guess that’s the point of this project, huh? This is only the second record I’ve reviewed that wasn’t my pick, and I’m realizing how much this project is getting me to really listen to music. I write about music for my blog from time to time, but never as a critic, more like, “OMFG I love this so much!” I hope Off Your Radar causes you to listen to music in a new way too.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
What we’re sure watching them live feels like — especially when playing this record.
How appropriate that the album cover to Pretty & Nice’s Golden Rules For Golden People looks like a kaleidoscope. This brilliantly produced album is just that–a musical kaleidoscope. It’s a captivating series of left turns and quirky song writing that commands your full attention. It’s not every day you hear the phrase “critters singing lullabies,” especially if you’re north of the Mason-Dixon Line. One of my favorite bands is Electric Light Orchestra, who seamlessly blended styles, rhythms, chord changes, and tempos at a moment’s notice. Pretty & Nice employ this same “kitchen sink” approach, and it pays huge dividends. Fuck Ritalin, Golden Rules is the cure for ADHD. Shout out to Scientology. The arrangement on Golden Rules is top notch, and inspired. Right away, the band snares your focus with the unexpected movements of “Mummy Jets“. Not to be boxed-in, they incorporate some interesting synth patches on “Critters“, and as the album unfolds we realize that Pretty & Nice’s whimsical world is full of Moog lines, choirs, and even bells. Oh, the bells! The end of “Yonkers“. Are you kidding me?! Hell, there are even elements of my favorite hip-hop producers here. “Money Music” is the rock song N.E.R.D. have always wanted to make. Strip the vocals from the industrial bounce of “Golden Rules” and you have all the trappings of a Timbaland instrumental. They even utilize digital effects, like the turntable-slowing-down-thingy on “New Czar“. This record spans from bare bones acoustic sections to sound beds akin to Nintendo music. Golden Rules has something for everyone–especially if you’re into getting really drunk, and looking into a kaleidoscope.
Pretty & Nice has a deliciously infectious retro sound. Hearing the frenetic, raw, 60’s garage rock sound pumping out of my earbuds was a very moving experience. That is to say, it made me want to get up and move. I was only able to restrain myself because, trust me, me dancing to this kind of music isn’t pretty or nice. Many of the songs had also an angular, post-rock (am i using these genre words correctly?) element that reminded me of Q And Not U, but with more accessible danciness. (Yeah, I know that that pretty much describes Q And Not U’s Power album, but that is certainly not what most people think of when someone says “It reminded me of Q And Not U,” so I’m sticking with that qualification.) It makes me feel like someone asked the weird kids to play at the Homecoming Dance, and they brought the house down. Stand out tracks for me were “Q_Q” and, of course, lead-off track “Stallion & Mare,” which contains a maddeningly catchy intro that I haven’t been able to stop humming to myself (“We are all instruments, all instruments…”) Oh and finally, a tip: listen to this album on headphones. It makes everything a lot clearer and crisper than the experience I had listening on my car stereo.
Like the colorful, abstract album cover itself, Pretty & Nice’s Golden Rules For Golden People is a kaleidoscopic collage of elements that exists outside of easy categorization. The overarching sounds of typical indie rock/pop are augmented with an idiosyncratic dash of math rock and art pop that sets their music apart from less ambitious contemporaries. It’s a rhythmic, angular, and adventurous record that never stays on one idea too long. “Yonkers” alone moves through jigsaw syncopation on the verse, a more rhythmic chorus, an instrumental break, a choral section, and more before ending with pretty bell tones and vocals. It sounds schizophrenic when you parse out exactly what’s happening, but the songs just work. “Golden Rules” misleadingly begins as an acoustic guitar ballad, plunges straight into a polyrhythmic groove, and transitions seamlessly back into the acoustic guitar for a sweet few seconds not once, but twice! The best track might be “Money Music,” which starts off with a great hook, moves into a repeated chant over a wall of guitar chords, and then gives way into angelic vocals that wash away into nothing by song’s end. This is an album that is stuffed with ideas but never overworked–a testament to the talents and craftsmanship of Pretty & Nice.
It’s easy to whip through this album and focus on just how unique it is. I sure as hell did. But Golden Rules is a record that necessitates multiple listens, hopefully in the same sitting, and it’s those multiple listens that uncover something very real about the record. This sound and Pretty & Nice in general–they don’t exist in a vacuum. There are tons of comparisons to be made and my first instinct when listening to Mummy Jets was that I’d accidentally hit shuffle and my iTunes had gone from opening track Stallion & Mare to a White Rabbits track off of Milk Famous. Put it on yourself and I’m sure you’ll have a similar reaction to any song on the record and it’s because the record is, in a basic sense, a conglomerate of so many conflicting musical ideals. This notion of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks (crude explanation of course) is not a novel style or a burgeoning entity unto itself. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bands who do this, yet what’s great about Pretty & Nice is not just they pull it off, but they do so in a manner that’s unavoidably spectacular. It’s so easy to put on a record of bands trying to do noise, pop, R&B, electronica, and six other genres at the same time and it just be a convuluted mess. One or two songs on the record might be good, but the album as a whole is a disjointed example of an artist stretched far past his limitations. Pretty & Nice is not that artist; in fact, I’m pretty sure they lack limitations as artists. Golden Rules is, in that crude sense again, a record that has an artist throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but Pretty & Nice don’t stop there. They meticulously pair these conflicting ideals and re-arrange things until they’re left with a record that’s oddly uniform in its presentation and completely fantastic in its own right. The quality of the record, not the sound–that’s what places Pretty & Nice into a vacuum.
Guitar Method by Kid Kilowatt
Chosen By Drew Necci