It’s not unusual for a band to eventually progress from hard rocking early material to more thoughtful, folk-leaning songs. What is unusual, however, is the career trajectory of Nethers. Right after reaching their peak as the blistering, unapologetic cock rock of their previous incarnation, the Carlsonics, the band dropped a guitarist, focused on Nikki West’s feminine vocals, and switched to NPR-friendly folk rock. It was a controversial move and certainly wasn’t helped by the nervous-sounding Nethers debut, 2006’s In Fields We Will Lie. With What the Wind Will Never Tell, the transition finally begins to pay dividends.
The main advantage of Nethers over the Carlsonics is that the band can now be more creative and electic. The aptly named opener, “Espirit De Nethers,” succeeds more with higher production values than the Carlsonics could ever have hoped to accomplish. The album has elements of dream pop, twee, and Will Oldham-like indie roots rock, and the peaks make up in intellect what the band lost in the Carlsonics’ catharsis. What the Wind Will Never Tell also features the best track either outfit has ever recorded, the twee-Devo hybrid “Green Jean Jamboree,” which will leave the Calvin Johnsonites speechless.
The other highlights mostly come earlier in the album, including “Three Hearts,” a track that sounds too happy and benign to be as smartly structured or enthusiastically sung as it is. There’s also “Great Big Fire,” the first time since the Carlsonics days that Aaron Carlson has firmly hit the distortion pedal. It’s the closest Nethers come to merging the band’s past and present, but it’s also a cock-rock tease. Instead of rocking harder, the album’s second half launches into sappier, dreamier stuff before you realize the album’s already peaked. The mostly throwaway material is saved somewhat by the intelligent production of Thom Monahan, whose resume includes Devendra Banhart and the Silver Jews.
It’s unclear if the band will ever go back to its earlier, noisier M.O. What’s frustrating is that the band seems to be so full of creative juices but lacks the proper format to release them all at once. They’re equally good at cranking it up as they are being softer and smarter, but they end up not reaching their utmost potential in either. Until Nethers can finally find a place to merge the two, they’ll be the Drew Henson of indie rock.