As Good As Gone, Nudge’s fourth full-length, arrives 4 years after their previous album, 2005’s Cached, and a plethora of activity from its contributors. Brian Foote, the only member who plays on all of the tracks here, has been putting together some DJ mixes as Leech, running the small label Audraglint, touring with friends’ projects, and mixing/producing the likes of Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza. Paul Dickow has been busy releasing albums by his textural electronics project Strategy, running the small label Community Library, and playing and DJing around Portland. Honey Owens keeps busy making her own stark psychedelic records and touring as Valet, contributing to experimental rock collective Jackie-O-Motherfucker, touring in various other musical entities like Atlas Sound, and co-owning the handmade/vintage clothing and record store Rad Summer in Portland. Aside from making me feel inadequate, the tie that binds these three is their commitment to making music that evades easy genre descriptions, and the low key wonder of As Good As Gone represents their most coherent work together yet.
Despite their experimental nature, Nudge posses a few essential qualities. One is patience, which makes itself evident in the slow morphing and unraveling of tracks. This is on fantastic display on lead track “Harmo”, which glides around cloudlike for a few minutes as a harmonica, electronic piano, and Honey Owens’s vocals murmur in and out of shape before a little synth figure emerges, softly punctuating the track like glistening dew. “Aurolac” also takes its time, centered on a few simply stark guitar lines, and later a supple bassline. Over the course of the track, the percussion mutates from a few lonely kicks into some clattering fills and finally into some loud and slow breaks. For lack of a better way to describe this, it reminds me of a menacing DJ Shadow track played at about half speed, and its slow build from one thing into another provides a slow, pensive catharsis in the fashion that a volume-dynamics band like Mogwai or Slint never could.
Another essential quality of Nudge is that their compositional style leans toward the arrangement of discrete pieces into tense juxtapositions more than it tries to unify sound into one monolithic blast. This often gets described as dub, but the feel of these tracks is both more tumultuous and introspective than anything you would hear from Lee Perry. If echo and discontinuous, low-pitched bass figures make you dub, then I guess Nudge often fits that description. “Two Hands” sees a triangulation between detached and dreamy vocals, slinky low-then-high bass rhythms, a high-pitched guitar note, and shuffling electronic drums. After a few minutes, a fluid, talking guitar line blows back on the dub elements to show the track’s psych leanings. After the solo the triangulation returns, this time with some louder drums, extra synth pads, and a funky squeaking sound. “Tito” follows these patterns, but is even more robust, including a brasher keyboard lead, more urgent vocals by Owens, tinkering percussion, and a low squawking noise. Just hearing these tracks unfold is a great treat, as they shapeshift in a really compartmentalized, “what’s next?” sort of way.
But describing these tunes does little justice to their sense of momentum and the strange feeling they give off. There’s darkness at play here, but it’s leavened by some light sounds that sort of bobble around and chip away. It’s bafflingly odd at times, but never in a negative or off-putting way. The best way to describe it is that this is what it would feel like to be a stoned infant: not sure what to pay attention to as you’re slowly presented with a variety of pleasantly shaped and colored stimuli. Though not sure what to make of it, it is viscerally enjoyable and mentally wondrous nonetheless.