One thing that stymies the advancement of modern music is the simplistic yet inevitable categorization of musical genres/bands (i.e. "pop-punk," "electro-pop," "emo," or "garage"). The pigeonholing often occurs, however, because many bands don't even listen to other types of music, much less venture out of their genre of choice. This creates unnecessary lines between genres, and the divisiveness makes for a painful amount of boring music.
That's one reason why Nice Nice, an excellent Portland duo consisting of Jason Buehler (guitar) and Mark Shirazi (drums), is so appealing. There is no way I will ever be able to define them with a stupid music category. They are improvisational. They use many pedals so they sound sort of electronic-based, yet all their loops are sampled live with a guitar. There are points where they sound intrinsically dub-influenced, and other points that flail into dissonance. And their improv is not so wrapped up in being arty or spur-of-the-moment that you have to stick toothpicks in your eyelids to stay awake. In fact, you can even dance to their beats. What the fuck?
"With our style of improv, we focus more on rhythm, which a lot of improvisers don't do," begins Buehler. "But it's more about building and deconstructing patterns and interlocking textures than it is about writing songs or skronking out." Their groove creates a nice bridge between arty/experimental music and accessibility, which is another flaw with improv or outsider music: sometimes, it's so wrapped up in pushing limits that it usurps its own goal--to challenge the listener--with its utter unlistenability. You can't challenge your audience if they were so bored they left a half-hour ago.
Which is not to say Nice Nice doesn't prod some of the paradigms. At the release show for their self-titled CD on Archigramophone, there was a point at which Shirazi appeared to mic himself blowing bubbles into some water. "It was a pot of water and a duck call I got at a hunting shop. I actually stole that idea from someone," says Shirazi, "But we use a bunch of found objects. Jason brought in balloons one day and we popped them, or we'll smash light bulbs."
Buehler responds, "The light bulb is the exciting one. It's a bit of a mess, but we know we're really playing well if Mark breaks a light bulb. We tend to focus on rhythm, but there is that space we get in where it's not just about that; it's more about call-and-response and building short moments of texture and different ways of interacting that don't rely on rhythm."
Because Nice Nice has a mere two band members, the variables for how much their improv can go wrong are decreased. However, this is also because they're just very comfortable with their instruments--especially Buehler's particular adeptness at pedal manipulation. "I think it came from listening to electronic music and being embarrassed about the instrument I chose to play--well, it's just so hard to make noises on the guitar that aren't [cliché]," explains Buehler. "[Pedals are] a way to escape the limitations of the instrument, and make noises that sound more like I listen to in electronic music. It came out of necessity, and putting them in interesting combinations is really what that's all about."