Destroy Nate Allen / GnarBoots - With Our Powers Combined (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Destroy Nate Allen / GnarBoots

With Our Powers Combined (2012)

High Endurance Records

Although folk bands usually eschew electricity to give more focus on their lyrics, by juicing up their sound with electronic charge, Destroy Nate Allen heighten just what makes their off kilter lyrics so weirdly endearing. While Destroy Nate Allen is usually composed solely of the husband and wife duo Nate and Tessa Allen, on With Our Powers Combined the band teams up with San Jose weirdo-punk trio GnarBoots.

The pairing gives Destroy Nate Allen's weirder lyrics a much needed sonic edge. Being that the backing band is GnarBoots, a group that rips through ska to hip hop to '80s synth in a single song, it's difficult to characterize the sound of the album. Still, as with the earliest wave of punk, it seems the group is leaning towards the weirder, wackier side of alt music than the nastier side.

For instance, "Distracted Nate O Bot" finds the band attacking ennui by characterizing Nate Allen as a mindless automaton, while Gnarboots supplies a berserk rendition of third wave ska that sends up the genre as much as they pay tributes to it. By contrast, on "Hospital" Tessa Allen sings an ode to the hospital that saved her life, while dropping sly one liners with her purposefully off key (but inviting), twisted Barbie-voice while the band whirls through a circular, almost circus-like keyboard-driven number that makes the listener feel dizzy. Why she felt the need to sing an ode to the hospital is unexplained, and the album is that much better for it.

Destroy Nate Allen is at its best when it is being ambiguous. "Almost Out of Texas" is an electric camp number about leaving the state, but it's never clear why. The adhesiveness of the stranger lyrics with the constantly shifting, ska/pop-punk/campfire punk leaves an almost sinister bent to the music, somewhat creating a Dali-esque image. Yet, on the other hand, at times Destroy Nate Allen delves too much into preaching. On "Boobie Bar" the group admonishes strip clubs with "Don't go down to the boobie bar / If you're looking for a real relationship you won't get far." Such a stance is fine and well, but simply repeating an imperative over and over, without any surrounding imagery, story or lesson doesn't lend itself to repeat lessons. The band is masterful when it lets the listener assemble the composite parts..and there are a lot of parts here to be assembled, so frankly, a blueprint is unnecessary.

Still, when the band excels at being unusual, they soar. It seems that this album is a one-off, but as with Zappa and Beefheart, it seems one act charges the other and vica versa, so perhaps a series would be warranted. The sum really is greater than the parts.