I'll be the first one to admit that I know next-to-nothing about music.
The Beach Boys inside and out. Frank Sinatra's best and worst. The Paul Simon discography. Done. That's the sum total of all my musical parts. Can't make it, can't sing it- - - well, save for "Enter Sandman," a few, stray Beastie Boys lyrics and, with a gun to my head and shame in my eyes, maybe some 311?
The problem is that my new-music intake probably died with my high school Rolling Stone subscription. When I listen to music, I tend to fall back on standbys and constants, leaning heavily towards nostalgia and its many comforts. There is one exception, though. The sole collision between new music and an old friendship.
All musicians have old friends. I think. I hope. People they grew up with that can relate to the aesthetic they've built across their catalog or cite specific truths in their lyrics. Hidden jokes, inspired soundscapes. It's the "inside baseball" perspective and one that I share with one very specific weirdo-rock band that was born, like I was, in Northern California-
In its current and most long-standing state: Nick Reinhart, Nathan Latona, John Clardy. Formed by way of a shit-toned concert in my parents' backyard on my 16th birthday. That band was Guilty Bystanders and their crowning achievement was a mostly-spot-on cover of Beastie Boys' "Sabotage"-
It all comes back to those three boys from NYC for me, doesn't it?
Guilty Bystanders gave way to No Regard which gave way to Tera Melos.
Kind of. It's more complicated than that. More parts, more people.
But Nick Reinhart-
The band's guitarist, lyricist, vocalist and head maestro of weird-
Was my dude. Is my dude. From 11th grade onward.
I tried to skateboard like he did, dress like he did, piss people off like he did. The one thing I could never touch - none of us could - was his music. His addictive need to hear certain songs over and over and over again. And then specific snippets inside those same songs, over and over again. We used to drive around all summer in a boiling hot, 1987 beat-down Honda Accord, looking for some kind of trouble to get into. There was always music on these drives, looping and repeating. A mobile, punk and retro-rock dance club. Nick was also the one who started our long-standing weekend tradition of driving to downtown Sacramento to see live bands. Sometimes Auburn and sometimes Grass Valley. Anywhere his/our bands were playing-
And later, Hella-
I'm sure they have a special place in Nick's heart just as they do mine, but that dude was grinding towards his own musical agenda early and often. Really anytime our lives slowed down long enough to allow it, he was on it. In high school, when we'd have a sleepover, Nick would always be the first one awake. Bare-chested, oversized, costume-cowboy hat on his head and a guitar in hand. Noodling and grinding until he was lost inside the kind of noises that annoyed us straight into our cars and back to our homes.
Listening to the new Tera Melos album, TRASH GENERATOR, was the catalyst for these words. I've never written about music before and I can barely take myself seriously doing it now. I can't help it, though. To my ears and the memory rotting between them, this record is a biographical slam of my shared past with Nick and our collective futures. It sounds like someone who loves Disneyland but also has to pay his fucking bills. It sounds like someone who kept an obsessive collection of Wonder Years VHS tapes and grew up to be a dog-raising Catan-a-holic. For all I know, I'm the only one who hears these particular truths inside the tracks, but-
Structurally or sonically or however I'm supposed to talk about music, both Nick (guitars) and Nathan (bass) have told me it's a bit of a "fuck-it" album, meant in the most freeing way imaginable. Playing towards a specific trend or critical plateau wasn't the goal, though to be fair I don't think it ever has been. It's just that now, with the trio split between California and Texas and Switzerland (!), the sum of their collective parts - when reunited - is a lot more concentrated than it used to be. This is rock and roll by way of cold brew and no one on this album is fucking around and wasting time. Theirs or ours.
This album sounds like a dungeon in the original Super Mario Bros. when time starts running out. Dangerous and dire and immediate. Honestly, I hear old school NES all over this album and not just on the track titled, "Warpless Speed Run." The song, and its breakneck speed, seems clearly inspired by Nick's fascination with YouTube videos of gamers trying to break timed play-through records on old NES games.
There's another track on here - the first one, "System Preferences" - that builds and punches in a style that borders on an all-time Primus tune, "Southbound Pachyderm." There's gifts like that on every track, little junkyard accidents that hit me from every direction at once. And that's just the frosting, the ever-changing design of what makes Tera Melos who they are. The indefinable noise, the endless argument of genre. It's a needless, pointless chase as far as I can see it.
Nick publically claims what - two influences?
Squarepusher and Aphex Twin?
Maybe Kate Bush?
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in Korea Town, right down the street from The Wiltern. One time Nick and Nate drove all way down from Sacramento just to see Dido play. I went with them. Once. It was all I could afford or enjoy. Nate, too. Nick, though, he went two nights in a row, the second one solo. Not for laughs or ironically, either.
So what genre of music does Tera Melos make? The good kind.
Their songs and untouchable catalog of Fannin-fueled music videos, for all their merits, are rarely mentioned alongside their lyrics. If there was ever a turning point, I hope TRASH GENERATOR is it.
Nick is notoriously cagey with his words, even with me. His lyrics are treasures left for his listeners to decode. I don't believe there's official liner notes for any of their post-lyric albums, though I'm just lazy enough not to verify that. What's online now, I think, is the product of hardworking fans or determined enemies.
There is a song on this new album - "A Universal Gonk," one of my favorites - that is straight-up biographical. When I decoded the song, obsessing in a way that most closely mirrors my middle grade obsession with JAGGED LITTLE PILL, I was shocked by its subject, having lived through a great deal of it myself. I texted Nick immediately, curious about a lyric. He laughed and told me I'd heard it wrong. It was something else, something even better. "That's good," he said. "I didn't want it to be too obvious."
That's what the track "Dyer's Lane" is for, a Silverstein-esque list of the putrid filth that gathers around the road that literally and figuratively haunted our youth. Worth a deep dive in your browser, if you've got the time.
Another one of my favorites, the title track - "Trash Generator" - hit me with coded, lyrical familiarity. The sound is creepy - in spaces it seems to dance around the Haunted Mansion and storm-themed levels on old NES games. The lyrics, though, seem to infer a character that is either the same goof in "Slimed," my all-time favorite Melos track, or at least related to him.
He doesn't like odd folks to get too close to him. He keeps obsessive-compulsive time with his footsteps along the sidewalk. Doesn't this sound like the same guy who says, if I've heard my "Slimed" lyrics correctly, "something about my face, always makes me sick. Try to comb my hair, but the slime is thick.."
I know that guy.
I am that guy.
Everyone who ever questioned their own self-worth is that guy.
I told my dad, a near-encyclopedia of music history, about these lyrics recently and he smiled, saying it reminded him of one of his all-time favorite lyrics from Bruce Springsteen, the one that goes, "I check myself in the mirror - I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face."
Now can we talk about those Melos lyrics and their merit?
It shocks me to digest the words on this new album considering that this was once a band without any lyrics at all. Back in the days when that exact same dad of mine, upon hearing that first album of theirs, asked if, "they were making actual songs or just noise." Back when they had their former drummer, Vince, and their wildman guitarist, Worms. Back when you had to know the exact length of their guitar cables to make sure you didn't get a headstock to the face. Back when they used to play to the rooftops and beyond, when the physical manifestation of their sound seemed to be, at times, a giant middle finger.
That energy isn't gone, though. Not on TRASH GENERATOR or anything else that came after those wild and crazy chainsaw days. Nate still swings his bass like a lumberjack, John punches his kit like he's auditioning for a supergroup and Nick, well - Nick still kicks his pedals at the most unexpected times and rips big chunks of digital dirt across the middle of their songs. This band, since day one, has never been content to let a clean beat lay alone for along. Chop it up and chuck it, ad infinitum.
I had the pleasure of seeing Tera Melos whirlwind their way through a set a few months ago at The Fonda. They were playing in support of Chon and I claimed a spot at the edge of a tiny floor section that overlooked a good portion of the crowd. I almost prefer the non-headlining shows, where there's still something to prove, still some reluctant observers on the scene. Now sure, I'm well aware they're deep into an established fandom where people are still hyped to see them no matter the billing, but it delights me to no end to see them win new folks over. From my vantage point, I saw a few different knots of friends decide to suddenly shut up and listen. Big smiles. Elbow nudges, head nods. Pointing. What are those guys doing, Dude?!
The best part, the part I'll never forget, was watching those three Melos men catch the two guys manning the sound and light boards off guard. It was like some sort of silent-era comedy gag. Every time they tried to fold their arms and chill out, the band zigged left instead of an expected right. Changed the rhythm or the style, flipping tiny tremors into ear-wincing earthquakes on a dime. The two guys on the boards finally got to the point where they had to stand up and chase the band along the knobs. There's one song on TRASH GENERATOR, the aforementioned "Universal Gonk," where Nick works his guitar to sound like an honest-to-goodness sax. And he does it live, too. When he bent those noises into his guitar at The Fonda, the sound guy finally walked over to the lighting guy and whispered something in his ear. They looked stunned, maybe a little pissed. Mostly impressed-
That's the same chaos from back before, only now the musicians are men and they're punching their headstocks into the music. TRASH GENERATOR, then, is the moment when we take notice of what has disappeared behind us and what, thankfully, is still to come. Shit gets hard when you get older, but it gets real rewarding, too. This album is certifiable proof of that. Enjoy-
And congrats, Old Friend.