Floating somewhere in the aesthetic ether between hazy beach-rock and lo-fi gutter punk, there exists a little band from Atlanta known as Places to Hide. It’s hard to tell whether their music would be more appropriate on a surf trip or in a sweaty basement mosh pit, and I think the simple answer is that either one would work. The group blends genres in a way that feels very natural, allowing them to fit a niche that’s a little more fully-realized than the beach punks of the late seventies and early eighties.
Their debut album, Almost Nothing, is a refreshingly blunt and abrasive take on the anxieties of newly-minted adulthood. Vacillating between nostalgia for the easy romances of younger days (“The summer is so hot / And I just wanna have sex with you”) and utter despondency in the face of being jaded and underemployed (“I’ll be fine / Just staring out of the window / I’ll be fine / It’s really getting me down though / I’ll be fine / But God I really hate myself sometimes”), Places to Hide paints a picture that’s all too relatable for today’s directionless twenty-somethings.
This dichotomy is reflected in the music itself, with “Love Song,” “Get Me Clean,” and “Ayscough St.” sounding like something Best Coast might write after seven too many drinks, while “Self Preservation” and “Drugs” take a somewhat more aggressive approach. A persistently energetic percussion line keeps everything moving, and manages to drive a lot of guitar and vocal parts that might otherwise be a bit stagnant at times. It’s almost reminiscent of The Thermals, but repeat listens of Almost Nothing won’t be motivated by superficial pop catchiness.
Lead singer Kyle Swick’s voice is consistently out of tune, and much like lo-fi compatriots The Microphones and Daniel Johnston (or John Darnielle's earlier recordings, for that matter), it suggests a sense of disarming resignation and vulnerability that makes the band immensely likable. They come off as entirely unpretentious, which is something of a rarity these days. It makes their unapologetic bluntness feel genuine rather than contrived or juvenile, and really emphasizes the importance of presentation and context when it comes to writing lyrics.
If they were to melodically whisper “I love basketball / Michael Jordan was so cool / And I love Alcohol / Because it brought me closer to you” over a chamber-pop violin section, it would be difficult not to brush it off as impenetrable, artsy nonsense. But with Swick’s delivery, you know to take it at face value. He’s just had a couple of beers and wants to tell you how he feels.
In the end, that’s what makes this album great. It’s caustic and a bit difficult to appreciate at first, but after a few listens it starts to become familiar and, surprisingly, rather charming. The imperfections mature into marks of character, and the nasally, off-key vocals start to sound like the voice of an old (albeit cranky and cynical) friend. Almost Nothing is an album that will grow on you if you let it, and it absolutely deserves the opportunity.