Friday Full-Length: Naam, Kingdom EP

Looking back now,  Naam were probably a couple years ahead of their time. Three or four, at least. They formed as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Hamilton, bassist/sometimes vocalist John Bundy and drummer Eli Pizzuto — or at least that’s who they were when they got around to putting out their debut EP, Kingdom (review here), first on their own and then through Tee Pee Records. Running a special-edition 12″-worthy 23 minutes, the three-songer positioned Naam at the vanguard of a new generation of heavy psychedelic rock.

They weren’t necessarily the first, or even the first psych act in Brooklyn, but they brought a fresh take with a focus as much on depth as expanse tonally and their songs even in this initial batch were undeniable in their groove. There was a reason Tee Pee snagged the band and released the EP on the quick — I mean, it was months, and not that many of them. Naam had “New York hometown weirdo heroes” written all over them.

That blend of elements made Naam feel like something of an East Coast complement to Ancestors, whose demo-turned-debut Neptune with Fire, was issued by Tee Pee in 2008, but the two bands’ paths would quickly-enough diverge. And really, epic neo-stoner was hardly limited to either act, but it was the generational turnover they represented that really set them apart. Going to gigs in Manhattan or Brooklyn at this point, one was bound to run into the band on some stage or other, and listening to Kingdom, one hardly knew that they were woodshedding a progression that would carry them across their two full-lengths and the next five years of international touring, before their eventual disbanding in 2014, but that’s how it turned out.

Kingdom still bleeds that original potential. It takes lack of pretense to an extreme in its fuzzy cause. The 11-minute closing title-track soars, sure, but opener “Skyling Slip” manages to pack its breadth into a five-minute run, rumbling with low-end threat at the outset but unfurling a nod that is so warm as to be genuinely welcoming in its atmosphere. Welcoming and dusty, anyhow. A shuffle takes hold in “Skyling Slip,” all proto-space rock and winding as it is, but psychedelic and heavy in like portion, the guitar and bass and drums urgent, driving,naam kingdom in the first half only to split out with wah-drenched soloing and effects for a midsection jam that leads to a slowdown and eventual plus-keys boogie buildup finish. They go far, but never seem to be all the gone on “Skyling Slip,” and that would prove to be emblematic of the band Naam would become: a deceptive sense of control underscoring material that seemed to swirl beyond grasp.

“Fever if Fire” is slightly longer than “Skyling Slip,” though both would becomes staples of live sets, and eases its way into the verse with a shimmering riff and Pizzuto‘s drumming as the secret weapon holding it together. I won’t take anything away from any one of these players, but the post-Sleep intricacy of what Pizzuto brings to “Fever if Fire” still rings as a call to worship, pulling off multiple tempo changes with apparent ease and bolstering guitar and bass alike, mellowing out later to give the final push-off-the-cliff its due dynamic. Or its dynamic due. Whatever.

And when you go off the cliff from “Fever if Fire,” you land in “Kingdom” itself. If you were ever so fortunate as to see Naam play this live, with Bundy howling upward on the mic to join Hamilton‘s recitations of the title in the apex of the massive, hypnotic jam that the song became, well, then you already know the deal. But consider the beginning of “Kingdom” as well. HamiltonBundy and Pizzuto are locked in from the start, and though its 2:40 before the first verse even starts — barely discernible as it is through the morass of echo that surrounds; like a bullhorn really far away spouting stoned gnosticism — you wouldn’t call the track patient. There’s just that much moving to be done. Circa 4:30, Bundy‘s bass leads a speedier charge, but within a minute the slowdown lands big, big, big, and “Kingdom” begins its outward excursion, coming to a stop only at the lines, “Kingdom of heaven/Twelve by six/Christ is born on the crucifix…,” etc. as the vocals lead the tension mounting toward the song’s and the EP’s payoff. “This is freedom. This is my birthright. Kingdom.” Fuck yes.

I won’t claim to know what the hell “Kingdom” is actually about, but I know when I hear that line of sitar or keys or whatever melodic thing it is backing Hamilton‘s fuzzed-beyond-fuzz solo, I still get chills up my spine. And why the hell not? If you’re listening to EP now and thinking “wow they could really ride that groove much longer” at the end, you’re right. “Kingdom” became 16 minutes when it led off their 2009 self-titled full-length debut (discussed here), and was no less captivating for the additional time. Naam toured and did local support gigs in New York, growing spacier all the while. Next outings like 2012’s The Ballad of the Starchild EP (review here), 2013’s Vow (review here), and their 2014 split with Black RainbowsWhite Hills and The Flying Eyes (review here) found Naam not only working as a four-piece with John Weingarten added to the fold on keys, but becoming ever more identifiable in their take on cosmic heft.

It was a bummer when they broke up, but so it goes. Pizzuto was playing in Virginia’s Sinister Haze a couple years back, but I don’t think Hamilton or Bundy have gotten anything going at this point. That’s a bummer, and in another world, Naam would be ripe for reunion, getting back on stage and hopefully picking up the added experimentalism with which they left off and taking it even further into the unknown. 2020 isn’t that world, to say the least. What Kingdom still stands for, though, is the possibilities that Naam would explore in the next few years, as well as the special grit that only existed in their sound at the moment it was captured. They were never the same twice, but Naam was always a special band.

As ever, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Maybe not the least productive morning ever, but definitely on the list. I got a text from my wife at 4AM. She was next to me in bed, mind you, but sending me the text so I’d see it when my alarm went off an hour later so I’d know what was up. The phone buzz woke me from whatever anxiety dream I was having — who can remember? — and I saw her note that the internet was out. It was back on by the time I actually got up an hour later, but has continued to be in and out since. I’m supposed to do a video interview in an hour that’s been rescheduled like three times already. Here comes number four!

So, when I should’ve been writing this post, I was instead trying to chase down wifi problems, to no frickin’ frackin’ avail. Yes, I turned everything off and on again. Yes, twice. No, I didn’t burn the router to the ground so the soil would be richer for the next connection. Should I try that?

Meantime, the dog’s already up and The Pecan is up early circa 6:10 and that’s pretty much the end of my time. I got all the way to the Ancestors comparison above before I had to go get the kid. Normally, I’d finish the first half of the post, if not the whole thing. Frustration.

I went to bed last night cursing the internet for something else entirely. Today I feel all the more justified for that.

I don’t know what’s up this weekend. Nothing? We’re pretty much under lockdown here, what with the rampant plague and all — oh that old thing! — and it’s cold anyway. I’ve stopped going running since I hurt my ankle and kind of gave up on life. I need to go grocery shopping and I’ll go by myself even though it makes no sense since, what, I’m gonna get covid and my wife isn’t? I’m gonna quarantine for 10 days upstairs in the guest room while she runs The Pecan around full-time, trying to work all the while? I’d better be dead before we get there, though there were plenty of times this week where I’d have taken that bargain.

Anyway, if anyone needs me, I’ll be here, being bummed out that no one cares about my Star Trek tweets, waiting for bedtime.

Great and safe weekend. Wear your mask. Hydrate. Don’t make eye contact. I hear that’s how it travels.


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One Response to “Friday Full-Length: Naam, Kingdom EP”

  1. Matt S says:

    “I need to go grocery shopping and I’ll go by myself even though it makes no sense since, what, I’m gonna get covid and my wife isn’t? ” – This exact conversation has happened with me and the missus. I guess I could just bar myself in the bedroom and she can feed me crushed potato chips under the door.

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