Nice Strong Arm

  • Nice Strong Arm
  • Reality Bath (Homestead) 1987 
  • Mind Furnace (Homestead) 1988 
  • Cloud Machine EP (Homestead) 1989 
  • Stress City (Homestead) 1990 

Originally from the Austin scene that spawned such kindred spirits as the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid, this NYC trio crafts a so(m)ber mixture of Brit gloom (Joy Division, Bauhaus) and New York guitar screech (Sonic Youth, Swans). While its work has been spotty, Nice Strong Arm has never been less than intriguing.

Initially distinguished by a propulsive two-drummer lineup (only captured on the first LP), NSA’s debut is shot through with an art-rock sensibility that cushions the entropic din. From guitarist Kevin Thomson and bassist Jason Asnes’ brooding vocals to the grim, almost directionless songs, the record is all about hurt and despair. “Date of Birth” and “Minds Lie” have bite, but a more focused look into the abyss would be welcome. (The Reality Bath cassette adds a bonus track.)

Mind Furnace is a far more subdued effort, angst-ridden and often beautiful. The intricate song structures (that don’t grab immediately but reward upon further examination) and downbeat lyrics detailing domestic decay comprise the bulk of a record that always seems on the verge of bursting through its self-imposed restraints. Highlights: the gripping “Swingset” and frightening “Faucet Head.”

Cloud Machine pairs two new studio tracks (including a bright, metallic funk instrumental called “Cop Show”) with two songs cut live at CBGB. Stress City is an extremely forceful (read: LOUD) and rhythmically sophisticated record that fairly approximates what Nice Strong Arm can do live. The songs’ excessive verbiage does, upon closer inspection, resemble bad collegiate poetry, but the requisite dank imagery colors such skewed funkers as “Desert Beauty Bloom” and “Neighborhood Voyeur.” The stirring sound of collapse.

[Doug Brod]