Nice Places would have been the perfect local opener for the Minus the Bear/Circa Survive show at the State Theatre coming up on March 16. Except Now, Now are actually opening. So forget it. That's more perfect.
But if you know those bands, you get the idea. Nice Places, who released their first full-length, Invacuo, a couple weeks back, after a promising three-song EP about 18 months ago, have that contemporary prog-rock thing going on, with stuttering and staccato guitar chords, swirling digital flourishes, and plenty of deviations from the standard 4/4 rock time signature.
They even include three instrumentals, increasingly long as the album moves forward and culminating in the five-minute-plus "Untitled," which might remind you of Dead Man's Clothes' Ice Is War disc. It's a lonely and desolate kind of song, with digital whirs becoming ear-piercing and leaving the audible spectrum, engines of music cycling down and warming up. Another instrumental, "Traps," might be named after that old jazz term for drums, as Brendan Shea (also in Old Soul) dominates the open with phrasing like everything falling down at once before guitars enter like they're drowning in maple syrup.
Nice Places aren't as heavy as the Baltic Sea, but the share an affinity for controlled chaos. It's rare to have a "lead" instrument. Instead, (usually) Samuel Belanger's lead vocals provide the majority of the melody, while everything else cycles and repeats to blend into a background wash.
The songs can run together. There isn't a stand-out here, or a lot of big-popping choruses, although the post-chorus in the opening "Dance with Me" — sharing a title with a classic Leftovers tune — does have a great punch, following a song-stopping stutter.
The lyrical phrases repeat and recycle as much as the riffs. Here it's "I've just got one thing to say/Only wanted to be there for you/All I wanted to say was..."
In "Oh, Lordy," it's a series of split personalities: "I will tear you down ... I will lift you up." This one's a serious head-nodder, especially after the 3:30 mark, and the mixing leaves you wondering whether those are wordless vocals or a keyboard. The high hat in seven-note bunches is hard to ignore.
This is an album that's less about individual moments, though, and more about overall touch and feel. It can be uncomfortable, accusatory, sneering. Then it opens right up and welcomes you in. "On a Train" has a breakneck pace, with a White Stripes guitar and plenty of punk ethos. The vocals are lower down, breathy: "You wanna do it, but you know that you'll never follow through it," they repeat. The beat is skittering in transition to a straight-rock sound with rolling drums into the finish.
"The Morning Off" is sun-shiney in comparison, languid with vocals that ride single syllables. They're a bit nasally, and perhaps drag things out overly long, but the phrasing turns something like "think about all the ways we could spend the day together" into something much less mundane.
Sometimes the vocals are buried too much in the mix for you to make out much. In "Bliss," with Emily Harvey delivering keyboards like churchbells, they're heavy and dramatic, with Dream Theater echoes, everything hanging all the way out, but it's nearly impossible to make out lyrics. Maybe they don't matter much, serving mostly as placeholders. Maybe the mix could be refined a touch.