An unhappy truth for local music fans is that the best bands often don’t stay in Reno. After a certain amount of success, the bands move to a bigger market, or a couple of the key members do, or, frustrated by the lack of opportunities, the bands either implode or drift into some narrow niche and lose whatever innovative vitality they might have once had. In other words, either they move away or they start to suck. (There are exceptions, of course.)
This is especially true for bands on the far left end of the dial, and Spitting Image is definitely found there. The quartet plays art punk, with broken rhythms, abstract, occasionally atonal sounds, and violent bursts of energy. But most bands associated with these types of sounds, like Talking Heads, Fugazi or Sonic Youth, seem distinctly urban, whereas Spitting Image is a band of the desert.
Guitarist Julian Jacobs tempers his ferocious guitar lines with hints of Western twang. All the members play with the sense of spacious balance of a landscape photograph. Vocalist Austin Pratt sometimes sounds like Ian Svenonius of the influential D.C. punk band Nation of Ulysses, but while Svenonius’ lyrics were usually satirical and political, Pratt’s are evocative of Western imagery: “No saloon, and no stone tomb, no weed tumbled, black smoke, old legends doom,” he sings in “Stone Tomb.”
One of the coolest things about this three-song 7-inch record is that it comes packaged with a zine, titled “Sympathy for the Detail,” after a lyric in the song “Negative Space,” and featuring artwork by more than a dozen of Reno’s best visual artists, including Nick Larsen, Ashley Westwood, Kelly Peyton, Chris Carnel and Michael Sarich. Pratt and drummer Casey Conrad also contribute artwork. The images in the zine range from photographs of Nevada deserts to drawings of animals, and it’s sequenced to reference the lyrics or the energies of the music, almost like a kids’ read-along storybook.
This visual accompaniment reinforces the Northern Nevada-centricity of the music and lyrics. Keen listeners might even notice musical references to bygone local bands. The best music always reflects the place it comes from, and it’s a high compliment—and an encouraging sign for local music fans—to say that these songs could have come from no place other than Reno.
It would be easy to dismiss the Tim Tucker Band as a studio owner’s vanity project—Tucker owns Sierra Sonics Recording Studio—but Tucker Too, the band’s new album, is surprisingly accomplished.
The songwriting is good, if a bit rudimentary, often relying on heavily repeated refrains. But there are enough musical surprises to maintain interest. The funky sax solos on leadoff track “Jamestown” are especially welcome. All of the musicianship is very pro, especially guitarist Adlai Alexander, whose playing is often reminiscent of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. Overall, the album combines appealing, simplistic songwriting, sort of like Neil Young in Harvest mode, with slick adult contemporary production. It’s pleasant, smooth, and easy on the ears, if a bit dated to the ’80s, sort of like the audio equivalent of a Patrick Nagel print.