Here at Nanobot, we can be generally predictable. Yes, “Reviews” is in our title, but we pride ourselves on “discovery;” to that end you can count on the fact that we write about music we enjoy, though we try our best to be critical. If you enjoy critics who excoriate artists for page hits, well… let’s be honest… you’re already at those sites. Even as we write our positive prose, we will from time to time hijack a review to write about a broader idea or memory that the music pulls to the surface. It’s just what we do.
To that end, I insist on listening to each album submission that we run with at least thirty times. I need the music to get in there and roll around and come up with its own ideas. Once I wake up singing songs on the album, it is usually time to get to work. What happened when I started listening to Sunglasses & Solar Flares by the Y Axes played out no differently at first but has taken a turn in recent days.
The Y Axes are an interesting amalgamation of sounds – a little pop-punk, a little early 80s metal, a little space rock, doo-wop beats, and some geeky elements (c’mon, their band name is straight out of the universal language: math). At times, it gets a little busy and clunky to traverse so many genres, but the San Francisco quintet plows on, undeterred. I would say things like “the vocals here sound a little out of tune” or “the album feels a little long, like it is a few EPs stacked together to fill out a full-length release.” I gravitated to songs like “Green To Gold” and “Loop Machine” because it was easy.
Let’s address the easiness: why was it so? Not to take anything away from the rest of the album, but those two songs are really good. “Green To Gold” starts out with a fun little prog/space-rock ditty from guitarist Devin Nelson, which Kevin Ferguson added to with sci-fi keys (now replaced by (Jon Lanthier). Aaron Larson builds off both with a grooving ostinato through his bass and Darryl Kay delivers a 1-2-3 stick hit before the drums take the song into punk territory. Halfway through, there is a little breakdown that I can only imagine becomes a fun jam session during live shows. Over it all, Alexi Belchere delivers sweet and silky vocals that flirt with punky and petulant that are more prevalent in other tracks like “Loop Machine” and “Chemicals.” “Loop Machine” delivers some dirty riffs and power chords that show some of the aforementioned metal influence that bleeds through the pop.
The more I listened, the less I worried about gaps in tone and album length and structure. More and more songs struck me and stuck with me. “Dotted Lines” has some great cock-rock guitar licks, “Rivers” is a fantastic and futuristic ballad. “Artax” reminds us with its “Last Kiss” influence to stay away from swamps. At this point, their songs get caught in the perpetual song loop in my head AND THEY WON’T LEAVE (right now it’s “Ghost Town” and its fun bouncy tempo). The only cure I’ve found for Y Axes songs stuck in my brain is to listen to more Y Axes. Fight fire with fire.
At this point, I’m pretty sure I just made an argument for the current pop music industry model: beat your listeners into submission with constant spins. Sometimes you just need some extra time with an album to mine all the goodness from it and I’m glad that I took the extra time with the Y Axes. I went from worrying about its business to thinking it would be the soundtrack to the film “Blade Runner,” had it been released during the glam metal/prog rock era. Sunglasses and Solar Flares is out May 17th – go listen to it and see where it takes your brain. If nothing else, get it for the amazing album art; Laika would approve.
Clay is a regular contributor and co-founder at Nanobot. He lives in Denver, CO and is a fan of hijacking posts and Laika the astronaut dog.