Few music critics, and/or consumers, were expecting the self-titled debut from Nightmare of You (NOY), the braintrust of ex-Movielife guitarist Brandon Reilly, to be as engaging as it was. And yet in the fall of 2005, Reilly and his three friends: now-departed drummer Sammy Seigler, guitarist Joe McCaffrey and now-departed bassist Ryan Heil, churned out a near-flawless work of 11, literate, Smiths-inspired offerings. Equal parts creative and caustic, the self-titled was an auspicious effort that marked the start of something very special. Or so we thought. The Long Island quartet followed their shimmering debut with the brief, but sonically different Bang EP, a disc that geared more towards experimentation and improvisation. From the danceable title track to the off-kilter “Herbal Jazz Cigarette,” NOY seemed to push the creative boundaries a bit further than most were expecting. So it comes with baited breath, that the group has released their second and long-awaited full-length Infomaniac, without two of its founding members.
The album begins rather half-heartedly with the acoustic simplicity of “Good Morning, Waster,” which begins with just Brandon Reilly and a guitar. Halfway through, the song gives way to the full band but ends before it can even make a substantial dent. The all-too-brief finish yields to the chamber-pop of the piano-fueled “Eustacia Vye,” in which Reilly, in his own very special way, spins a yarn about a female and their falling-out, imploring her to stop drinking, “Out of fear of sounding dumb, I think you have a drinking problem, out of fear of sounding dumb again, why do you date so many women?,” he asks. The song serves as a marked departure from the Brit-pop stylings of the debut and the 80s-infused leanings of the Bang EP. While the progression towards chamber pop is noble and even mildly aurally pleasing, “Eustacia Vye” doesn’t exactly sound like Nightmare of You’s forte.
Third track, “I Think I’m Getting Older,” is a self-indulgent and whiny mess that is thankfully backed up by the engaging, “Someday, But Not Today.” Halfway through though, the guitars on “Someday, Not Today,” fall brittle and the entire effort gets lost in the fog. The vernal and rousing “Hey Sweetheart” marks a return to form and has all the trappings of what made NOY such a favorite a few years back: Reilly’s stuttering of “don’t take it so ha-ah-ha-ah-hard,” a candy-coated chorus, and some rather playful guitar tones. And then almost predictably, the album sags again as the barely-felt horns on the funky “Experimental Bed,” do little to buttress this awkward and pragmatic ditty. The gritty protest anthem “Amsterdam,” in which he sings of “moving myself to Amsterdam in detest of a futile war,” gets things moving in the right direction, even if Reilly’s voice appears to buckle under the weight of the sonic pressure, and almost sounds as if he’s being drowned out.
The laundry list of problems are only compounded by the throwaway “Gavi,” and the lack of grit or zest in the album’s second half, which is comprised of mostly wailing ballads. Of the last five, only the country shuffle “A Pair of Blue Eyes,” and the saturnine penultimate track “Please Don’t Answer Me ” are truly worth recommending. Even the candid “Tell Me When It’s Over,” starts off promising but collapses upon itself. The album closes with the snarly instrumental “Goodnight, Devil,” which is an inventive way to close out a rather lackluster disc.
It is at this point that one raises the question: What the heck has happened to Nightmare of You? The same band that put together 11 consecutive can’t miss songs on the 2005 self-titled have now thrown together a disheveled mess that wreaks of poor planning, studio foibles and poor execution. Are the absence of Siegler and Hall really that much of a boon to this band’s evolution? Has the time off hurt their momentum? Or is this just an inevitable misstep that was bound to happen. Whatever the reasons might be, everything on Infomaniac feels muted and tame. The drums barely come alive, the guitars are far too airy and light, and even Reilly’s vocals appear wayward and overly self-indulgent. Gone are the punch and zest of rousing mid-tempo rockers “I Want To Be Buried In Your Backyard,” “The Studded Cinctures,” and “The Days Go By Oh So Slow” and the effortless swagger the band radiated on the self-titled. In its place are overwrought pop tunes that feature disinterested crooning, sedate guitars and a bevy of lackluster performances. And so it is, even a band as charming and talented as Nightmare of You is not immune to the ill-fated sophomore slump.