Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Deal Casino, Nika, 2015

EP Review

There was a time when pop rock music was both cool and popular. I remember being 17 and scrambling like crazy along with all of my alternative music-listening friends to scoop up tickets to as many dates as we could for U2's Joshua Tree tour. Those were the days when you either had to sit in the street outside the Ticketron machine at Jack's Music Shoppe or just keep hitting re-dial on your phone. We saw U2 a couple of times in East Rutherford, in NYC, and once in Philly when Bruce Springsteen joined the band for a duet of "Stand By Me" with a broken-armed Bono.

I just looked up Billboard's year-end Top 100 for 1987, and U2 had two entries in the top 40: "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Crowded House, Genesis, and Heart also made that list. Bands like that -- Yes. Even Heart. Have you ever heard Nancy Wilson shred? -- wouldn't get near the Top 40 today. And, with a few exceptions -- Raidohead, The National -- that emotional and anthemic U2-style rock music hasn't penetrated the consciousness of 21st century cool kids.

Asbury Park via Sparta, NJ quartet, Deal Casino, appear to be positioning themselves -- at least locally -- at that old nexus of popular and cool by working some of the same territory that bands like U2, Coldplay, Radiohead, and The National have been able to turn into arena-filling success. On their latest effort, Nika, the band rely on chiming guitars and crests of emotion to pull in the listener.

"Soaring high...," sings frontman / guitarist Joe Parella on "Halley" over the build-up of the delay drenched guitar work of Parella and Jozii Cowell. It's an apt description of Deal Casino's overall sound, which relies heavily on the ultimate release of an ever-increasing tension. The song itself is a lyrically clever conflation of the object of Parella's affection with the comet of the same name.

"Bare Hands" has been a staple of Deal Casino's live set for a while now. It's got kind of a throwback 70s feel to it -- funk, falsetto --, and the song is driven by the rhythm section of Mike Linardi on drums and Jon Rodney on bass. "Red" is probably the hardest rocker on Nika. Lindardi's drumming and Parella's double entendres are the focus; and, while it's got a darker feel, it has a memorable hook just like all the songs in the set.

The EP closes with "Anything That's Bad." As the song marches quietly along atop a lot of what the band have established to this point, -- Lindardi's drumming, echoing guitars, Parella's emotionally pained vocals -- you wait for that burst you know is coming. You kind of get it at about three minutes in as the band add layers to the song; but, in this case, it's more of a slowly building burn than an explosion.

Produced by Jon Leidersdorff and engineered by Erik Kase Romero at Lakehouse Recording Studios, Deal Casino tracked Nika live to tape, which may account for some of that 20th century feel I get from the recording. Live, the band have that 20th century effect of uniting the pop lovers and the rockers. I've watched their crowds at shows and marveled at the diversity of Deal Casino's fanbase. I don't think that I, or anyone else these days, knows the formula for success; but that's got to be part of it.

Deal Casino's Nika is out this Friday, July 10th. The band are celebrating with a release show that night at Asbury Lanes along with Smalltalk, dollys, and Deaf Rhino. It's a bill that blends retro sounds, pop, and rock. Kind of like the headliners themselves.

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