Tera Melos guitarist Nick Reinhart turns to grunge and power-pop, embracing the limitations of verse-chorus structure with some of his best songwriting to date.
Nick Reinhart does not write simple songs. The Los Angeles-based guitarist makes oblique math rock in his primary band Tera Melos, whittles experimental noise pop alongside Death Grips drummer Zach Hill in bygones, and dreams up bizarre prog parts in supergroups like Big Walnuts Yonder. After a 15-year career guided by a “Why not?” attitude, Reinhart has finally decided to give self-described “‘normal’ songs” a try with Disheveled Cuss, his new solo project for all things grunge and power pop. On his self-titled debut album, Reinhart uses the limitations of verse-chorus structure to condense his ambitions and rein in his trains of thought, establishing boundaries that help him scratch a pop itch with some of his best songwriting to date.
With drummer JR Kurtz and engineer Patrick Hills contributing bass, Reinhart wastes no time defining what “‘normal’ songs” means to him. It’s the unabashed hooks of Weezer’s Blue Album, the fuzzy texture of ’90s alt-rock, the satisfying payoff of a great bridge and an even greater chorus. He modifies those influences with vocal registers and guitar trills, like on “Nu Complication” and “Generic Song About You,” always grounding the tracks with lush guitar tones. Throughout, he sings about letdowns and lonely days, lyrics that later helped him to recognize his depression. Perhaps that subconscious mental state is what gives Disheveled Cuss its restive energy, as if a sudden breakdown is looming in the background.
The best pop songs leave you wanting more. That’s where Reinhart, who built his career on going over the top all of the time, momentarily stumbles. “Oh My God” focuses its five-minute runtime on a repetitive guitar loop, dulling its own edge by waiting too long to introduce a delightfully unpredictable riff just before the end. Reinhart knows how to save an unconventional earworm for a surprise ending, but this time, the tension fizzles long before the buildup finishes.
Despite his commitment to conventional structures, Reinhart also sprinkles weird sounds throughout: jazzy, high-register string plucks, bittersweet voicemails from his dad, warped whammy bar effects that sound like a strip of film dissolving. Even a straightforward track like “Shut Up” packs enough pep to masquerade as a TV show theme. No matter which moniker Reinhart works under, his playing style and ear for production can make a technical trick sound uncomplicated. “She Don’t Want,” easily the best song on the album, rides an elastic melody into blasts of neo-grunge production and a radiant solo-turned-riff recall, a combination that’s an instant mood-booster. In a way, it’s the reason Reinhart started this project to begin with: to forgo the intricate compositions of his other bands for the welcome familiarity of 4/4 time signatures and pleasing refrains. It’s a sharp left turn in his career, but as his ideas roam freely and joyfully on Disheveled Cuss, it pays off.