Niiice. walks into our place of meeting, a 24hr vegan restaurant owned by ex-punks, grinning and scraggly. Which is not out of character for their sound: emo with a kick of power. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant of sitting down with a three piece band comprised of all white dudes, but the more we talk the more they grow on me. And obviously, I’ve already listened to their forthcoming EP Never Better, out today, March 1st on Brave Cove Records, which has given me high expectations. Never Better actually jumps off 2018 LP, Try to Stay Positive. Whereas “try to stay positive” sounds like measly advice, “never better” sounds like the sarcastic retort to “how are you?” The titles work as a musical “two steps forward, one step back”. Never Better is more concise and collaborative than previous releases, which is ironic considering that it’s hinged around instability. The catalyst being the ass-kicking summer of 2018 where singer and guitarist Roddie Gadeberg and drummer Sage Livergood shared an apartment with rats and mold. Which is probably why there’s a certain need for comfort on this EP. But as Gadeberg tells me about his love for the first two Slipknot albums, Livergood tells me he’s been listening to Lil Peep lately, and bassist Abe Anderson sits quietly, I see the full picture of Niiice. come into focus. Their lovable burnout trope is self aware, not a hint of irony on them.
Never Better opens with the more pop-influenced track, “Snowbored,” which gleefully delves into Midwestern loneliness and the season of snow that interconnects our sadness. On it, Gadeberg mutters “the weather’s fucked, life fuckin’ sucks/but what’s new with you?” Niiice. takes themselves lightly and their music seriously, leaving the emotions to fall somewhere in between, coming in waves of goofy twists on a more classic emo sound. On ‘Love Handlez’ a chipper cartoon voice chimes in “wait, let’s always be stupid. Forever!”, giving us the idea that Niiice is in on the joke: another band crammed with longing, broke, and coming up with track titles in their free time. But Niiice. is reflective, with Never Better being a product of spending a lot of time with yourself- for better or for worse. On the jangly ‘Blunt Force Marijuana’ Gadeberg bemoans “it’s like my father told me, I’ve got no direction/I hate the way I look like him when I’m staring at the mirror.” But the pitfalls of trying to be more doesn’t stop the EP from having a good time: It’s persistent with dynamic riffs. Livergood tells me “we don’t just play emo,” meaning that there’s more to Niiice. than scraping vocals and hating your hometown. The most aching part of Never Better is that the “you” that Gadeberg sings about isn’t some woman-shaped space in his life. “You” is rarely even a person. It’s nostalgia. It refers to a better state of mind, a better time and place. When things were just a bit easier. Never Better doesn’t point to past romantic relationships, but contentious family ones, typically with father figures (Gadeberg calls Emo Boy breakup songs “misogynistic” and “annoying”). Don’t conflate Niiice.’s stoner jokes with their ability to feel deeply. Niiice. is fluent in puns and memes, but isolation undercuts the melodic humor with the shiftlessness that comes from being lonely even when you’re not alone. The cover art for Never Better features a gap-toothed kid smudged with a sinking black eye, giving you a thumbs up. At one point Roddie adds that sometimes he feels like the kid on the cover. Or maybe the cover art feels like him. A kid still standing with a goofy smile after a smack. When it comes down to it, maybe Never Better can best be surmised as a trampled on thumb still pointed upwards.