It’s a whiff, or it’s a puff of smoke, or it’s just one of those things, but when the first song on Beyond the Static, Nick Piunti’s smashing followup to last year’s 13 in My Head starts playing, it’s like a there-it-is-now-and-there-it-goes-in-a-flash kind of moment; it’s really just a passing glance of a thing, the brief audio allusion to the beginning of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It’s there for only five seconds or so, and it’s a sly reference that may or may not have been intended. Nevertheless, it’s there and it kicks off the proceedings in a pop-meets-rock-and-roll kind of way, and I like it.
The song is “It’s a Trap,” and yes, there is a trap involved in the proceedings–a trap that amounts to a cautionary tale about communication and deception and the ability to know both when you see or hear them. “It’s a rivalry based on make believe, if you take them at their word,” Nick sings. “Just as soon as you’re certain, there’s a lie behind the curtain. It’s the reason you’re still hurting.” It’s a cautionary tale dressed up in power pop clothes.
This is an album of cautionary tales; it’s an album of observations keenly observed, and it pops and it rolls in that order. “Time Machine” warns of the destructive nature of living in the past, of the disappointment that one can feel after peering backward. “I’m not much for memory lane,” the narrator sings. “The stories always sound the same. Never as cool as we thought we were, the pictures now seem so absurd.” It’s a helpful hint that values the here and now over the been there and done that, and it’s delivered as an upbeat tune with a really catchy chorus.
Beyond the Static is a series of glimpses that present situations and point to solutions, kind of a pop music version of It’s a Wonderful Life. The lyrics to the powerful “Fell for You” suggest a kind of promissory note at the end of a bad relationship, but it’s only a suggestion: “Yeah, you’ll get what you deserve. Someday, but not today. You’re the one that always gets away.” In the tuneful and melodic “Head in the Clouds,” a relationship walks a fine line between give and take and take and give. “While I burn at both ends you’re just fanning the flames with a bad case of amnesia,” one half of the pair sings. “Well, it’s so hard to believe you.”
Sometimes it’s the person who’s being deceived that can’t see the deception through a heavy cloud. The astounding mid-tempo ballad “Six Bands” tells the story of a person who can’t see the forest for the trees. The girl in question “tries to sing only if she could, but she’s drowning in the talent pool.” “She’s got six friends telling her lies…” The devil is clearly in the details, if only this girl could grasp them. The girl has “six friends counting both hands, broken glass filling up with the sands of time no longer on your side. Will you notice the end of the line?”
Produced with gusto by Piunti and Geoff Michael, and featuring the talents of Chris Richards and Andy Reed of the Legal Matters, Donny Brown, and Ryan Allen (from Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms), Beyond the Static is a grand work of pop art by a musician who is at the top of his powers. Clearly, Piunti has things on his mind; in these songs he expresses his observations brilliantly.
Heavy on guitars and matched at every step by enticing melodies and a beat you can dance to, Beyond the Static is pure pleasure for people who like to bop to the beat and think at the same time. Life’s lessons can be hard, but listening to these terrific songs is easy, and truly rewarding.
Beyond the Static is released on March 14.