It is not news to compare songwriters that we feature on Ninebullets and those featured on MTV and say–see, they’re different! But Nato Coles’ career stands in such stark contrast to everything popular media portrays music careers to look like and what stories pop songs can tell, that the comparison is worth mentioning briefly. Looking over the VMA winners from a few weeks ago, the only songs with any specific details in them at all are Mackelmore’s “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us.” They’re on the hip-hop side of pop, where specific details and characterization often come in the form of cultural references, which don’t turn out to be so indicative of real characters, though they do effectively characterize a type of person who would speak in that cultural dialect. I’m not saying details make all songs better or that pop music is stronger for details–Buddy Holly and Barrett Strong songs are general and universal to great ends–but I’m saying that when pop songs, to such a pervasive degree, evade any specific socio-economic, political, or subcultural details of their characters, that it speaks to what we think of ourselves. It speaks to which parts of us deserve to be sung. The parts of us that fall in love and remain as young as possible and have fun–absolutely those deserve songs! The parts that know every TV or fashion reference in a hip-hop song–also meaningful! But the parts of us that make up the rest of our time–the working parts, the misinformed parts, the parts that didn’t make it out of your youth with you–those are fucking important, too. And if Bruno Mars, who I like, can be propped up in front of teens and sing to them “Your sex takes me to paradise” then I think you can give teens or any music fan enough respect to write them a real character and expect them to respond. I mean, any time Tim Barry opens for Gaslight or Against Me, the kids who’d never heard him before walk away loving him forever; so that’s not far off.
Nato Coles writes songs that hammer specific characters into accessible stories. He’s a true statesman of punk, he knows how to play probably every great punk song, he’s been in some of the best unsung bands of the last fifteen years–Modern Machines (from Milwaukee), Used Kids (out of Brooklyn, also featuring badass Kate Eldridge currently of Big Eyes), Radio Faces, and for the past few years he’s been up in Minneapolis fronting The Blue Diamond Band. Over that time his songwriting has steadily risen from basement punk to basement rock. He’s always had one of the strongest senses of rock melody around, and with the Blue Diamond Band the focus is on those catchy and devastating songs. Their first full-length, Promises to Deliver, works as a big song to the unsung–from the luckless subjects of Nato’s songs to his choice to cover “Rudes and Cheaps” by the New York band Bent Outta Shape, who themselves ran out of luck and into tragedy when their frontman Jamie Ewing died at 25. Sonically, the Blue Diamond Band has a place amongst Midwestern bands like the Replacements (though less shambly, at least on record) and “blue collar” rockers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Phil Lynott. Say what you will about the financial success of Springsteen and Seger by the time they wrote “Glory Days,” and “Night Moves,” respectively, those songs pack some whalloping choices. I think those are the choices Nato Coles is interested in on this album–how to tell the story of his generation of punks and friends and heroes, how to reconcile the lives they set out to live with where they are now. And Promises to Deliver delivers with fucking awesome anthemic rock music. It works. It’s one of the most compelling and exciting albums of this year. It’s Essential Listening.
Stream and purchase Promises to Deliver on digital, vinyl, or CD from Dead Broke Records or A.D.D. Records or directly from Nato’s own Bandcamp. Check Nato Coles’ blog and Facebook for his relentless tour schedule. This album really feels to me like a companion piece for the Aaron Cometbus novel I Wish There Was Something I Could Quit, so check that out, too, via the awesome Microcosm Publishing.