The story goes like this: Kate Nash inadvertently “celebrated” her rejection by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School by falling down a flight of stairs. Armed with an electric guitar and amp (gifts from her consoling parents), Nash wrote songs, recorded them in GarageBand and very quickly signed with Fiction Records. This may read like numerous other “success” stories of the commercial music industry, especially of the MySpace-band generation. Except Kate Nash actually wrote every single song on Made of Bricks, (only two were co-written), and could possibly be an artist willing to be taken seriously by both the mainstream and independent music communities.
Not that Made of Bricks indicates that Nash trolls for acceptance from either of those demographics. Songs like the hit single “Foundations” suggest an artist firmly rooted in the path of other British female songwriters. Lily Allen is the obligatory comparison, the two walking in the safety (musically and lyrically) of mainstream marketability but with an edge. A British edge. Armed with that lovely British alto and some witty lines, her charm works best when she isn’t necessarily trying to amuse, but is just being her quirky, mouth-first self. “Skeleton Song,” for example, is about a woman who’s still friends with the actual skeleton she befriended as a child, with decent flourishes of melody just enough to counterbalance the song’s weirdness, and coughing bouts of jerky piano.
Then there are the painful moments like the jarring “Dickhead.” The song begins with its grammatically awkward chorus, “Why you being a dickhead for?/Stop being a dickhead/Why you being a dickhead for/You’re just fucking up situations,” to the tune of soporific jazz and crisp finger snaps. There are numerous ways to be cute, and singing about dickheads isn’t necessarily one of them. No matter how disarming Nash is, unflinchingly mindless—not to mention repetitive—obscenity doesn’t do much for material that is already uniformly weak. The other obvious offender would seem to be “Shit Song,” which similarly treks in inane, profanity-laced phrases. But despite its title, that track is an illuminating piece of trip-hop. With vintage touches of dance synth, and rolling, penetrating percussion, it may be the brightest moment in the album’s production, a smooth, fluid piece of sparkle good enough to nostalgically recall Duran Duran and the high school prom where our parents probably met.
Made of Bricks is enjoyable more often than not, even if both Nash’s charms and blunders are apt to make us feel embarrassed. For example, she has a habit of starting her songs all wrinkled and jumpy, with a “I either can’t play the piano, or I’m pretending that I can’t play the piano” game, before letting the songs smooth themselves out as the remainder of the instruments chime in. To this effect, “Mouthwash” is a standout, and a likely second single. Lines like, “And I use mouthwash/Sometimes I floss/I’ve got a family and I drink cups of tea” fit clearly into the, “I’m going to write whatever random and probably pointless observation as long as it sounds good and or rhymes” category, but I’m inclined to think it works. It opens with plunky piano chords, adds toe-tapping drums, follows a roller-coaster melody that’s never boring for a second, then swells into rolling arpeggios and trumpeting horns that sound as if she rolled her piano into the midst of a Go! Team rehearsal. Take that with a perfect synthesized guitar riff, and the repeated “And I’m singing oh oh on a Friday night”, and we can’t help feeling shamelessly in love with Nash, if only for a few minutes.
A handful of solid tracks; “Birds,” with its delightfully awkward boy-meets-girl, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and countrified strains of electronics; “Pumpkin Soup” with its jazz horns; “Nicest Thing,” an innocent if forgettable bookend, round off a pleasant small-picture album. Despite, and maybe partially because of a general lack of conformity and an excess of quirk, Made of Bricks is accessible but just left-of-center enough to be interesting. It makes up for its lack of poetry—and sometimes heart—by doling out equal parts melody and curiosity. Until next time, Kate Nash is a charming girl who needs time and editing.
Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.
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