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What the Heck is “Nemegt Uul?”

Ross Finney | Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steve Shiffman and the Land of No have a gimmick.

Rock ‘n’ roll gimmicks are usually a mixed bag, superficially interesting but often unrewarding. Most of the time they’re a pretty good indicator that a group has spent more time thinking about how to sell its songs than they have on the songs themselves.

But sometimes behind the gimmick, behind the pretense, lies some kind of talent. After all, the Beach Boys only sang surf songs at first, David Bowie dressed up as an alien, and Radiohead let people pick how much to pay for music.

All gimmicks. They just had the tunes to back it up.

So learning that Shiffman and company were releasing a new three-song EP every three months for a year concluding with a full-length album, there was some reason to be skeptical. The idea is to write the album as you go, sell the album as you go and then resell it all together, kind of like a serially-published novel.

Somebody should have told them nobody buys albums, let alone EPs anymore but luckily Shiffman and the Land of No have the tunes to make it worth the attempt.

The New York based group released the second EP in the series, “Nemegt Uul,” named for a mountain range in Mongolia with little context as to the reason. Name issues aside, the EP packs a punch. It follows the first EP release “Death & Love,” a solid effort that’s worth checking out. That record earned the group some buzz outside of Brooklyn, and this latest release continues the band’s earnest and endearing vein of rock

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The press kit states the band sounds somewhat in the vein of Big Star or the Velvet Underground. They do have a familiar and grounded style of music but the more obvious influence however is Pavement.

Rooted in a kind of classic indie rock songwriting — the kind often thought of as too conventional by many of today’s indie groups — Shiffman and company deliver riffs, hooks and a sound that is both modern in its lyrical sensibilities and straight out of 1995 in its lo-fi guitar driven vibe.

Critics will call them derivative, but really they’re making a certain sound new again. And the indie genre could use a new Pavement.

The opener on “Nemegt Uul,” “All Part of His Plan” is a bizarre sort of love song. While the singer warns a girl about a manipulative suitor, the lyrics betray a concern that just barely breaches affection. Lyrical ambiguity notwithstanding, the chorus’ guitar riff will stay in your head for days. And the guitar solo rocks pretty hard.

“Never Know What to Say” is a classic three-chord piece of rock and roll. Once you grant Shiffman the conceit he’ll sing an entire three-minute song about not knowing what to say, the track is pop perfection, with driving verses and a catchy sing-along chorus that all us who’ve been at a loss for words can get behind.

Closing out the EP is “It’s OK,” perhaps the strongest song here. The go-with-the-flow lyrics are the perfect accompaniment to Land of No’s classic rock riffing.

It opens like some sort of Strokes B-Side and is sung like a Grandaddy track, highlighting the interaction of the group with their classic indie influences, and that it turns out so well is testament to the group’s musical chops and Shiffman’s on the mark writing.

With just three songs, the EP runs on the short side but none of the tracks is wasted and it definitely leaves you wanting more.

So in a way the gimmick works. “Nemegt Uul” plays surprisingly well and is testament to why it’s a good idea to give some gimmicks a chance.