A series of looped electronic drum sounds starts the solo debut album that songwriter Nate Ruth has cynically called Whatever it Meant. Two phase-y and fuzzy guitars enter, and presumably a third one, too, as his buried monotone vocal rattles off the even more cynical opening line, “I don’t know who you think you’re fooling, I guess you think you’re pretty good.” And that pretty much sets the tone for the album.
Ruth takes cues from the nosiest products of the 1990s, dipping a little into the Swirlies and spreading a bit of Sonic Youth’s melancholia over the mix. Some tracks call up My Bloody Valentine, too, but the raspy, chaotic sound, which is much more abrasive than melodic, is closer to Isn’t Anything than their much admired Loveless LP.
The bottom line is this: Whatever it Meant is a tough listen, mostly because of its prominent harsh guitar tones that are comprised by very dissonant chords for the songs’ verses but occasionally, and conveniently, switch to major key for the chorus. The songs eventually run together because of their very similar instrumentation and overall sound. There is little that distinguishes one song from the next, and because his vocals are buried so far into the mix, it’s very difficult to hear the personal lyrics he has written.
But all this noise and muddles instrumentation may set Nate Ruth apart. He wrote this entire album and played almost every instrument, but the songs are structured in a very unconventional manner. In fact, ‘unconventional’ may be the word to describe the songs’ placement and origin on Whatever it Meant, as well.
In the midst of the noise, Ruth’s out-of-place, brief forays into very memorable melody and affecting verse balance the album. “Oversimplifying” appears fifth on the CD, playing over a backdrop that was probably played on a K-Mart Casio special, complete with synthesized china cymbal. As he delivers the last line, “Would it be too much to get a bit of ‘live-in’ assistance?” we are presented with rising action from a very successfully mimicked cello and perfectly placed piano keys. An atmospheric static-type sound flows behind the vocals, hinting at the strong element of psychedelia that makes its way into most of the album’s tracks. It is this number, and the sleepy-pretty “Every ,” that may contribute to the listener’s longing for more melodic pop ballads.
The noisy, messy guitar that permeates this album is mostly overbearing, but it may actually work to heighten the listener’s appreciation of the album’s soft breaks, track five and eight, which are not only good songs but also quite refreshing. It is evident throughout the course of the album that Nate Ruth can produce beautiful vocal lines and unconventional stylistic chord progressions that seem to go almost everywhere. But he is more interested in creating a wall of noise than anything else, and that delineates the tracks into two sections: one that’s listen-able on a daily basis, and another that would have to make due if I’ve become entirely too intoxicated to get up and put on another CD.