Nudge’s last effort, Cache, introduced a startlingly direct sound to the band’s oeuvre. Damaged and rearranged sound still reigned, but high energy, beats and some electronic recontextualizations of dub took the Portland collective to decidedly new places. As Good as Gone, their latest (and second released by Kranky) doesn’t leave repetitive beats and funky flavors behind entirely, but its largely ethereal tone loosens the proceedings palpably, resulting in more relaxed music, tempered liberally with a cloudy haze.
Behind the guitar’s dreamy reverb and the electronic drones and swirls, the bass is As Good as Gone‘s lynchpin. "Two Hands" exemplifies this; Honey Owens’ voice floats over the minimal twinkling of the guitar and brushed percussion, with a snappy bass line keeping things anchored, even when the guitar explodes in a flowering solo and the drums pick up with a more prominent presence. Aside from a few select tracks that drift skyward, untethered, As Good as Gone works largely with these offsetting styles, the strident rhythm section keeping things orderly below the clouds.
Sometimes the mix works better than others. "Aurolac" pairs repetitive phrases from the album’s prevalent echoed guitar with a simple and slow bass line and drums that flit into the mix with frenetic fills. Add in tambourine and the electronic effects and accoutrement that Nudge frequently ply, and it makes for a pleasingly diverse instrumental mix. On this track, however, Brian Foote handles the vocal duties, and his soft, hesitant, voice, sounding miles away, lacks the beguiling draw that marks Owens’ best work as a frontwoman. When Nudge commit too fully to one side of As Good as Gone‘s palette without employing the other, the album often suffers. "Tito," a stripped down, largely electronic selection, features some interesting rhythmic play between the bass, guitar and a variety of tidbits of synthesizer, but even when the track breaks into its unwound conclusion, the music feels pedestrian when compared with the rest of the disc. "Dawn Comes Light" is the album’s most unabashedly ambient song, with rhythm a distant memory amongst the heavy reverb of the chiming guitar and ghostly vocals. The track features a satisfying swell, before the quiet again wins out, concluding As Good as Gone with a dreamy decrescendo. It’s the album’s least intriguing (save for the new age blanket of synth in the forty-second "Vedantique"), its straightforward approach lacking the attention to detail and array of secondary sounds that make the disc’s opener, "Harmo," itself a floater of a track, a far more engaging choice.
The cover of As Good as Gone features a painting of a dog, howling into the air, seemingly to alert someone of a sickly looking lamb, laying in the snow, unlikely to survive. The music on the album is rarely as urgent as the image that adorns it, and never as explosive as the heavy artillery that is found on its back, but the disc has a more subtle appeal than both. Nudge’s approach seems to sputter as often as it succeeds, but when it’s working, the hypnotic results are rather becoming.