Bag of Nickels - 'Amen'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine the light onto Bag of Nickels, a rising rock and roll outfit hailing from Delaware. The five-piece outfit has returned from a hiatus and is in the full swing of promoting ‘Amen,’ their junior effort. Like both its predecessors, ‘Amen’ has been independently self-released and promoted by Bag of Nickels. It’s a hard rocking romp clocking in at nine tracks. With music tendencies akin to modern alternative and hard rock groups, Bag of Nickels crafts their own blend of rocking. Let’s dig into it.

As aforementioned, the group certainly pulls from time-tested alternative and hard rock tropes. You’ll hear elements of the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and Queens of the Stone Age scattered throughout ‘Amen.’ The short-lived, but compelling ‘Hold Your Form’ introduces this with a bold introduction. I’d actually argue that the tune following it, ‘Impurities,’ is a stronger, more eclectic intro to the band, but the first song has its place nevertheless. The latter track has more sonic intricacies, something I really enjoy.

‘Trapper Keeper,’ a track featuring Danny Carmona and remixed by Mike Tarsia, continues the album’s trend of getting increasingly better with each new song. It’s actually a catchy track that toys with extensive electric guitar riffing and excellent lyrics and vocals. There are fragments of classic rock also apparent in these songs, but the band does a fine job modernizing these themes.

‘The Set Up,’ another track featuring Danny Carmona, incorporates some compelling elements. The song experiments with funk-style instrumentation. Thus, this song is particularly exciting, perhaps marking the most important song of the first half. The arena-rocking ‘Liquidation Sale’ isn’t quite as enthralling; it feels void of the passion on previous tracks and it isn’t as engaging or notable.

Instrumentally, the ball gets rolling again with ‘Speedball.’ Vocally, I found the song a bit piercing. The lead vocalist’s tendencies are overkill on the song and he overpowers it dramatically. In the first half of the song, his belting nature is frustratingly distracting. On the latter half of the song, superb percussion and guitar play allow the song to remain a number worth listening to.

It’s also worth taking a moment to touch on the production of this album. It’s very good, for the most part. Though I found myself overwhelmed by vocals at times during my listening experience, said experience was a rewarding one on a nice set of studio monitors. Considering the band self-produced and released the record, having such a firmly rooted production is as surprising as it is refreshing.

The last three tracks of ‘Amen’ feel trilogy-like. The title tune is a reverb-soaked, atmospheric journey that’s incredibly well performed and wholly enjoyable. ‘Refrain’ has a similar feel to it. I found the lead vocals on ‘Refrain’ a bit too much like ‘Speedball,’ though. When the lead vocal crooning is a bit more buried in the mix, it isn’t so distracting. I found his vocal musings throughout ‘Refrain’ awkward and a tad annoying.

The final track, ‘Sex,’ definitely has a sense of finality to it. It’s a seven minute epic, one that actually lends itself to the vocal style. I still think the song is a bit too self-indulgent the vocals, and it’s way too long, but it’s a sonically fascinating song. Instrumentally, the song is actually superior to a good deal of the rest of the album. There’s some killer stuff happening throughout this song in regard to the instrumental banter between bandmates. Thus, it acts as a perfectly apt finale.

I really dig Bag of Nickels. ‘Amen’ is an admirably exciting and well organized record. My only quip was the lead vocals on certain tracks: they were overpowering and reached a point where I didn’t want to hear him dancing around endless droning. That’s probably the most accurate analysis of them: droning. Aside from that droning nature at times, however, they are solid lead vocals that more often than not lend themselves to the backing instrumentation. ‘Amen’ is worth checking out if you’re a fan of alternative or hard rock. The band does a nice job of embracing some of the better parts of those genres in ‘Amen.’

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