The packaging of No Jams, the second LP from Boone’s Naked Gods, may confuse you. The band name and title suggest down-tempo anti-folk, perhaps serious music from smart people with a lot to say about the existence of a higher being and the human condition. The song names indicate a different direction. “Shaq & Diane” and “Super Mozart” predict wacky party rock that’s light on substance but possibly heavy on thrills.
The reality is somewhere in between: Naked Gods pair weirdo roots rock, not far removed from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with ambitious guitar architecture that points to Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr.
Live, the quintet sticks to the explosive side; guitar harmonies blast out at odd angles, while singer Seth Sullivan screams between furious tambourine blasts. As the title hints, No Jams steps things down a bit. On these 10 concise songs, the Gods clean up their sound, giving their intricate instrumentation room to shine but not burn out. “Shaq & Diane” rockets to life with a face-melting guitar dual that powers the song. Instead of rising to meet the intensity, the rhythm section hangs back, locking into a muscular groove that serves as a trampoline for the guitar. It’s a powerful show of virtuosity that’s as impressive for its finesse as it is for its strength.
Naked Gods pair their accomplished techniques with impressionistic lyrics that aim for weighty issues. “Not a hair from the head of a billionaire have we used to prop us up,” Sullivan sings in “Jeff October.” He explores his premise with images of low-income Americans trying to live their lives with quiet dignity, which is fitting given No Jams‘ lack of tricks or embellishments. There’s just a powerful rock band, thankfully distilled to the most essential elements. With Naked Gods, that’s plenty.