Ninja Gun - Restless Rubes (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Ninja Gun

Restless Rubes (2008)

Suburban Home

There's been something of a Renaissance in the underground lately. These bands -- many of them hailing from the South -- emerge having been raised on equally copious amounts of Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and Ramones, with a predilection for playing music deeply rooted in Americana while harmoniously blending a down-home sense of honesty with a unique pop sensibility. It's a formula that yields some fantastic music when properly executed, and on Ninja Gun's debut Restless Rubes it all comes together.

Readily apparent when the opening title track clicks on is the production, which is almost impossibly clear and so lush you'd think a major label fronted the budget for it. It's not overdone, though -- everything's here in perfect balance, the highs high enough and the lows low enough.

The influences of Ninja Gun are easily recognizable, but the band writes such good songs in their own right that nothing here seems hackneyed or plagiaristic. The straight-up guitar rock sound of "Eight Miles Out" and "Life Is Loud" owes a lot to mid-`90s radio darlings like Dinosaur Jr. and the Lemonheads. In the verses of "Red State Blues," vocalist J. Coody is a dead ringer for Tom Petty -- and the verses lead into a huge chorus with a great hook that's quite enjoyable, and the vocal harmonies on "The Last Cowboy"  and closer "Breaking Light of Day" really make those songs.

The lyrics to "Front Yard Screamers (Kitchen Kissers)" ought to be relatable to many who grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line. I swear, sometimes I think Coody is talking about my family. Lyrics in other songs tackle issues such as religion ("Darwin Was a Baptist," with the chorus line of "Can I get a little church in my state? / Give me one more reason to hate everything around me" hitting particularly close to home), and the anti-sellout themes present throughout "Asking Price" are a welcome sound coming from a band this polished.

I'm having a difficult time finding anything wrong with Restless Rubes. Whether or not it will have the staying power necessary to elevate it from 'great' to 'classic' remains to be seen, but in both practice and execution Ninja Gun have created the closest thing to a perfect record I've heard this year.