Though this is the band’s debut, in some form or another, Nicest has been together for the better part of a decade. Andrew Toups (keys, vocals) and Jacques Doucet (guitar, vocals) performed, made demos and played shows together since high school. Toups admits “It kinda fell apart because we were both pretty bad at life.” Later, they both played in indie stalwart Brass Bed.
In 2010, Doucet contacted Toups and informed him, “’I’ve really been wanting to play guitar like an idiotic child,’” Toups recalls. “I’m almost certainly mis-remembering that quote.” Rounded out by Matthew Sigur on drums and Frank Novak on bass, the band doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously: on its Tumblr page, what is supposed to be lyrics to the CD are actually lyrics to Counting Crows’ songs. Likewise, the Pet Sounds II title stems from a joke among band members.
“The record was, in our minds, very far from the kind of meticulous masterpiece that Pet Sounds is,” says Toups of the project that took two years of nights and weekends to make. Beset by the steep curve of learning to record, Nicest would get discouraged, set recording aside just to come back to it after a few months. “But, we did kind of labor over it in the same way. And The Beach Boys are kinda bad these days anyway, right? Maybe Mike Love will sue us.”
Other than the obvious infringement, it wouldn’t stand up in court. Whereas the classic Beach Boys are sometimes ethereal, sometimes sunny and bright but always laid back surf rock tinged with saccharine psychedelic pop that calls up memories of a day at the beach, Nicest drenches indie rock with effects and keys until it produces a head-swimming and -spinning vibe and calls up the play-by-no-rules sounds of Lafayette’s long-gone underground days at the Metropolis.
Though he may not understand it, the moniker fits. Nicest’s adoration for retro sounding effects, Moog synths and fuzzy distortions fit the space-age billing. There’s a wildness of a few bachelor lads back from a night on the town — via the swarthy delivery in “To Save a Friend” — unleashing a frenetic but focused sonic attack on their swanky flop pad. Throughout, Nicest keeps a solid beat, a soundtrack for an electro freakout dance party filled with people in ironic turtlenecks and blazers. The absurdity of “Bash the Brain against the Wall” only adds to its glory days of non-radio rock street cred and punk’s devil-may-care attitude (albeit far from the genre’s sonic buzzsaw approach and much closer to post punk).
By far, “Be Still” is a runaway standout, updating the Beach Boys original’s soft vocals and organ sound with a pulsating beat that jumps out the gate and spits its lyrics out like they were fire ants in a cocktail. It’s retro rhythm stuck on turbo, instead of Dennis Wilson’s caress, it’s a punch from a velvet glove. Though Pet Sounds heralded the mainstreaming of psychedelic rock and was before its time in the U.S., Pet Sounds II is admittedly late to the indie party. Yet, it is still a strong album that demands notice and another gem in the history of Lafayette’s left-of-center music scene.
“I guess,” says Toups, “the idea was like Stereolab + Brainiac + Richard Harris. Or, Burt Bacharach or something. Ya know?”