By Nick Kivi
A few weeks ago, Nathan and I sat down and shot the shit about music. We started to chat about what we wanted to review for Smash Cut and how to approach the medium. Critics get handed a silver platter of a job when you think about it. They get to stand back, observe, and decide what’s good or bad from their subjective perch. What gets praised is only embellished by the current norms of cool and many defile albums that people put their souls and livelihood into, just for a few extra clicks. The musician in me here cries out more than the critic, as I’ve done the leg work driving around to open mic nights with black metal bands who screech about meth use and rape. Sometimes I get the feeling some critics only know what it’s like to see bands from the barstool.
I’d rather be inclusive than exclusive here with my Smash Cut musings. We’re a bunch of young punks ourselves. If there’s any way to even “earn” the cred to piss all over your music, I haven’t earned it yet. So I’ll make my case by not wasting your time telling you what I think is shit. Instead, I’m going to try and make this a place to show you what I think could be worthy of your eardrums.
That being said, let me hip you to something. Aptly, it’s called “Let Me Hip You To Something”, and it’s the lead off track of Juan Wauters’ excellent new album N.A.P. North American Poetry.
Spring is starting to tighten its grip around Knoxville. And with the annual bringing of warmth and good vibes, the yearning for adventure and road trips grows. A winter of scheming and conniving has given birth to the urge to find the remote, unmolested corners of the country with a few mates and a couple twelve packs. With this perpetual pilgrimage to the highways, I can’t think of another album I’d rather hear than N.A.P.
Wauters followed his father and immigrated to the United States from Urugray, settling in Queens circa 2002. He began playing music more often and fronted The Beets, a garage rock homage-de Nuggets. This new solo effort is a folky affair that mixes finger-picked classical guitar and occasional drums and electric guitar. It’s nothing revolutionary, but off the bat you sense that it’s a little bit off-kilter. My Spanish is weakening as high school disappears into the past, but “Escucho Mucho” does mention listening too much and wanting to kill. There aren’t lyrics for it online, so I’ll let my poor translation sit until someone else can do better.
Wauters’ voice is as warm as his nylon guitar strings. He’s the kid at recess that talks to you from upside-down on the monkey bars gleams with a shit-eating grin. You don’t know exactly what he’s always talking about, but his likability gets the message across. Either way, you’re compelled to give him a bit of your lunch.
There’s enough evidence to make this album seem effortless. But as almost always with good albums, close listening has its rewards. Wauters’ songs have a deceptive depth to them that often conceals personal, philosophical observations. Case and point is the album’s centerpiece, “Water.” ”What is it that I’m for? / Who is that in my skin? / Has he done much for me? / What is that he says? / Does he talk about me?” These are pervasive musings next to lyrics like “I’m playing the guitar / because I’m good at it” and songs called “All Tall Mall Wall Fall”.
The songs here breeze on by quicker than a Montevideo winter and the whole album is over in just about thirty minutes. The album finished once again, I find myself staring out my window at the bright and inviting diorama of a season’s change. My foot taps enviously while I look at cars that head off to places unknown to me. Class and responsibility be damned. It’s going to take a hefty argument this spring to prevent me from grabbing N.A.P. and seeing how far the roads can take me.