For their new EP, Nashville-based pop rock quintet The Nearly Deads drew inspiration from Max Brooks' (World War Z) original bestseller The Zombie Survival Guide, in both their promotional art and the music video for “Never Look Back,” which became a runaway YouTube hit a couple of Halloweens ago (watch it below and look for a quick appearance of the book). The clip gave a massive boost to the band, who would eventually pick up many more fans while touring (including a memorable performance on last year's Vans Warped Tour) and land a spot on Billboard's “Next Big Sound” chart. They recently cut a deal with Standby Records, and their debut full-length album – which follows their self-titled, self-released 2011 EP – is currently in the works. In the meantime, The Nearly Deads Survival Guide offers another sweet sampling from a unique and energetic combo.
The band members cite '90s-era indie rock among their major musical influences, and there's definitely an early Foo Fighters vibe at work here, updated with a slightly darker spin (they label it “Polished Grunge,” which is a fairly fitting handle) and topped with a distinctive pop vocal by frontwoman Theresa Jeane (TJ). I've recently seen them compared with acts like Paramore, but that's kind of a lazy association; their sound is often more aggressive and less overtly gothy, with a grittier edge. Released for Halloween 2011, “Never Look Back” was my first encounter with the band, spotlighting their surprisingly beefy sound and TJ's bright, energized vocals, which can turn surprisingly soulful. The track grabbed my attention even before I knew the accompanying music video was chock full o' zombies...
This tune appears twice on the EP, in the single version (which debuted on their original EP) and in a new “Reanimated” version, which strips it down to bare vocals with piano & string accompaniment playing up the song's melancholy undercurrent and demonstrating TJ's range of skills (that's her on the piano). Also returning from the first EP are “Fact and Friction,” with its walking beat of interlocked guitar & piano and sweet vocal harmonies, and “Reasons,” which sports a punchy, chugging riff in the verses and a soaring chorus featuring multi-tracked vocals that demonstrates just how big and bold this band can sound. Survival Guide also features their latest single “Brave” (hear it via the lyric video below), which packs a really catchy low riff that creates a perfect dark counterpoint to TJ's uplifting vocal anthem, though I was hoping they'd flesh out the moody breakdown a bit more. “Changeover” adopts a more standard pop structure, but with a chunky main riff and a mischievous bouncing rhythm.
It's rare to hear darker, edgier variations on current pop music, and I haven't heard many new bands successfully adopt the alt-rock style that once dominated '90s radio – at least not in a pop context, complete with heartfelt ballads and uplifting anthems. After all, many of the grunge bands who inspired The Nearly Deads rose up as a response to generic radio pop (until they became mainstream stars themselves). But this group hit on a method of bringing the two seemingly opposed styles together, which works in ways that I haven't really heard since the peak of No Doubt and Smashing Pumpkins. While this EP repurposes some earlier material (if you were already onboard, just buy the three new tracks and you're solid), it's got me eager for the arrival of their full-length debut.
For a more recent sample, take a listen to the new single “Brave” below: