When the synthesizer kicks in, though, the sound relinquishes you of expectation—truly, a genre identity crisis.
The Facebook page for NYC-based band Nautics boasts: “We have a genre identity crisis.” On the surface, this might read like any other emerging indie band’s attempt at otherness, especially when you look into its bare-bones ensemble: Kenzo Repola (guitar), Van Cameron (bass), Levitt Yaffe (drums), and Amir Brivanlou (keyboards). Dig any deeper, and you’ll find yourself struggling to pigeonhole this group, too. A quick Google search will produce varied comparisons to The Strokes, Morrissey, and Robert Smith, and labels like “space-rock.” Kenzo Repola is also a visual artist who paints the band’s album covers, which heightens their symbolism for anyone who finds album (or EP) curation as tangential to the creative process of the album (or EP) production.
I entered into Nautics’ “Cosmos of songs” without any of the above when I listened to their newest release, “Thoughts on the Ceiling,” for the first time. (I’m no musician, so forgive me in advance for how I might describe this.)
The song opens with studio banter, something I’ve noticed has become a bit of a trope, but one I think is invariably effective, like a second-person narrator, to implicate the listener in the piece. A breach of intimacy?
When the drumline picks up like a heartbeat (perhaps a ploy to settling the listener into a pattern inevitably broken), the more ambient guitar and keyboard get an unexpected edge. There’s a smoothness to the vocals that contrast dejected lyrics like, “The sun has risen like the dead and I can’t even get to bed.” When the synthesizer kicks in, though, the sound relinquishes you of expectation—truly, a genre identity crisis.
Lyrically, “Thoughts on the Ceiling,” like Nautics’ entire discography, combine humor, and existential dread, but never at the expense of instrumentals. Something about the lyric delivery in this particular song reminds me of the effortless wordiness of Rostam’s “Bike Dream.” Then again, something about the instrumental progression separates the song into seemingly different parts, not unlike Lady Lamb’s “Crane Your Neck” or the one-time Tall Hall offshoot, Miracle Musical.
I have the “genre talk” with my introductory creative writing class as a way for us to combat preconceived notions of genre delineation and emphasize the necessity of carving out your own space in the face of a formulaic dominant narrative. Not only is hybridity exciting and engaging for its novelty, but it demonstrates the fluidity of category, allows for the story to dictate its form, not the other way around. Nautics feels similarly inspired, and the sooner I stopped trying to identify the components of a song like “Thoughts on the Ceiling,” the sooner I was able to enjoy the song and its quarantine-made music video for their ingenuity.