This is not what a Northampton band is supposed to sound like. There’s not a hook to be found. Nor the slightest hint of twang. And no one, not anyone at all, would consider describing No-Shadow Kick‘s music as accessible. Because it isn’t. And it doesn’t want to be.
Good? Oh, yes it is. Very good, in fact. Not great. Not on the band’s debut CD, Basement Make-Out Party, anyhow. There are some sublime moments to be sure, but there are some missteps as well. That’s OK, too, you know? Because, really, if you’re looking at things honestly you can’t help but realize that great just doesn’t come along very often. And at least with No-Shadow Kick there’s no sense that anyone in the band is pretending they’re great.
They seem to know they’re good. And they certainly know what they’re about. But they’re too honest to believe they’re great. The band’s music is mostly honest, too. Honest, at least, in the sense that it presents itself as the music No-Shadow Kick was called to make, rather than music the band members thought people would like. That allows the music to succeed honestly. Or to fail honestly. But No-Shadow Kick’s work is also deceptive. Its songs carry the illusion of simplicity, but are in fact deeply nuanced. Its music doesn’t scream for attention — it beckons almost shyly, asking with an odd sense of quiet urgency if you might like to hear what it has to say — but to make any sense of it, you absolutely have to give it your full attention. And even if you concentrate with all your might, you still may not understand what the band is up to.
The trio’s sound is anchored in a funk/soul love of the groove, but it draws on strains of goth, Television-style punk (as filtered through Yo La Tengo-ish space drones), and not-infrequent nods to the sometimes meandering post-hardcore sound practiced most notably by fIREHOSE (indeed one of Basement’s most intriguing tracks, “Integrity,” sounds for all the world like an homage to Mike Watt and Ed Crawford). And No-Shadow Kick is a Northampton band, even if it doesn’t sound like one. And even if almost no one in NoHo knows it.
Just about every music fan in Northampton knows Tom Pappalardo, No-Shadow Kick’s bassist. He’s the tall, brown-haired guy with a bit of scruff on his face as often as not, who used to run Turn It Up! records. Tom (he asks that his first name, not his last, be used on second reference) still works for Turn It Up!, but he spends his days in the chain’s Florence warehouse. He’s also the guy responsible for creating Turn It Up!’s oddball cartoon newspaper ads and similarly off-key radio spots. When he’s not doing that, he plays his bass. And when he plays his bass he sounds a lot like Watt, only maybe a bit funkier. It’s guitarist/vocalist Josh Gilb who brings in the gothy sounds, working a hollow, Robert Smith-style guitar sound as often as he references Crawford’s furiously spare style. And while it’s always tempting to take drumming for granted, it’s vital to No-Shadow’s sound that Shawn Reynolds knows how to keep the band connected to the groove without denying Gilb the opportunity to explore his sonic wanderlust. Tom isn’t at all surprised that his band is so widely unknown. Much as he and his bandmates would like more people to hear their music, they don’t put in much effort.
“We talk like we’re interested and we play like we’re interested, but we’re really bad at the simple stuff like booking shows,” he says. “We’re bad businessmen. We’re bad at the business end of the deal.” You’re not going to see No-Shadow Kick playing at the Bay State every other week. Not even close. “We try to play out once a month, but there have certainly been stretches of months where we don’t play out.” When I told Tom I planned to write about his band, he thought about trying to set up a show, so he’d have something to plug in the article. He even put in a call to Don Rooke, who books the Bay State. But he never quite got around to seeing it through. “We’re really like a fine example of the pure artist,” he says half-joking. “We are only interested in our craft.”
There’s something about Tom that allows him to says things like that without coming off as pretentious. It’s his sense of sincerity, maybe, the way he seems to recognize that even if you can say such things and sound like you mean them, it’s not such a good idea. You just have to give the guy points for being down to earth, if only because you’re glad he’s not one of those people who think the music world — bookers, journalists, radio programmers, label reps and fans alike — ought to seek them out just because they have talent. You have to wonder, though, if maybe Tom and his bandmates take things a bit too far in the other direction. When he talks about Basement’s lack of cohesion, when he apologizes for the fact that the songs on Basement sometimes lose focus and leave the listener feeling a bit abandoned, when he promises that the band’s next record will concentrate more on the funky side of the band’s sound in hopes that it will paint a more consistent picture, you wonder if he isn’t beating himself up a little too much. But he doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s not really a lack of confidence as much as my firm belief in truth in advertising,” Tom says. “If a couple of tracks on the album leak shit all over the place, I think it’s a good idea to say it.” He says its only natural for him to try to view his own work honestly. “I wouldn’t believe anyone who went around saying they were great, and I don’t like the punk rock approach where you go around saying you suck,” he explains. And since neither he nor either of his bandmates is all that interested in promoting their stuff, it only makes sense that they should simply look at their work as what it is and keep trying to improve it. It’s hard to take issue with that approach — except when what you want is for Valley music fans to hear No-Shadow Kick’s work, which, for all its imperfections, is not just good, but interesting, different and infinitely worthy of attention. And in a town where pop is king and alt.country is the sound of the moment, that’s just not going to happen all by itself.
by Sean Glennon,The Valley Advocate 07/20/00