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Deadpan diversions

Portland duo Nails Hide Metal craft subtly inventive rock that’s anything but minimal

Nails Hide Metal sounds like a great bar band, but leads the listener on strange journeys. Photo credit: Chris Selid

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It's funny, the disconnect that happens in the time it takes for a band to record an album, and for a music critic to listen to it. So much of the time, the critic will struggle for words, and resort to some description along the lines of, "This band is like the love child of Smash Mouth and King Crimson!" Setting aside the fact that no one would want to listen to such a combination -- alright, some people might -- if the critic were to ever ask the band about that comparison, it's very unlikely the band would say, "Yep, that's exactly what we were going for." I suppose it's something about picking up patterns or trying to assign meaning to something that may not be so cut and dry -- while you may hear all sorts of influences and touchstones and a song, the artist that made it may have had nothing more on their mind than expressing themselves.

This is all a prelude to me acknowledging my utter shame in listening to Portland duo Nails Hide Metal. Their music stubbornly refuses to be filed under one genre or another, resulting in a sort of Rorschach test to make me feel foolish. Hearing their music, my mind goes to these bands: Pavement, Lou Reed, the Go-Betweens, Lambchop, Southern Culture on the Skids, and the Doors. That can't be right, though. Groups like Morphine, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Pixies also creep up around the edges, and as I type this, I'm imagining Nails Hide Metal hearing it and sheepishly saying, "We just like playing rock music, man, so stop being weird."

Nails Hide Metal is made up of Russ Quinn (guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals) and Melinda Dalton (drums, keyboards, harmonica and backing vocals). Right off the bat, Quinn's deadpan croon is reminiscent of a whole cavalcade of reluctant rock stars, coolly peeling off reams of earthy, poetic lyrics. His voice plays perfectly off of Dalton's more honeyed tones when she joins him for surprisingly thrilling harmonies. Dalton's expressive drumming is also perfectly in tune with Quinn's fuzzy, no-frills guitar work. It's hard to state just how much Nails Hide Metal add up to more than the sum of their parts, with simple instrumentation subtly and effectively taking detours into more slyly experimental territory. It's almost like a magic trick, being lulled into the illusion of what might just be a great bar band, before being gradually nudged along a journey of exploration that makes stops in prog-rock, dream-pop, alt-country, and ramshackle indie rock.

However you choose to categorize Nails Hide Metal in your mind, you're bound to reconsider it at every step of the way. What does it say about me that, when listening to "All Through," the first track on their 2017 album Breach, my mind goes to Pulp? My best guess as to what Quinn and Dalton's intentions were in making their music is meaningless; what matters is that their music, idiosyncrasies and fascinating diversions included, which makes up one of the more unexpectedly compelling bands I've heard lately.

NAILS HIDE METAL, w/ Cape Nowhere, the Sockets, 10 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, donations at the door, 360.943.5710


It's a rare treat to see the Riffbrokers play in Tacoma. One of my favorite bands around, the Riffbrokers seem to spend most of their time in that Emerald City to the north that I refuse to name. Formed nearly 20 years ago, the Riffbrokers blend alt-country with elements of power-pop and the sort of melodic quasi-punk defined in the ‘70s by Stiff Records alums like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Their lyrics are endlessly quotable, textural snatches of prose, like perfectly distilled short stories. It'd be a shame to miss them on one of their few trips down to our town.

THE RIFFBROKERS, w/ Dragstrip Riot, Christy Wilson, 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, The Plaid Pig Live Music Lounge, 5214 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, $7, 253.301.2166

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