Getting into Nerve City
by Kevin J. Elliott

A few months back, Richmond, Virginia’s Jason Boyer, otherwise known as Nerve City, was simply a blip on our radar. Nerve City was just another one-man cacophonic psych-dirge crooner in a long, and by now redundant, line of equally cathartic songwriters. His first single for Hozac, following a couple tapes well worth the hunt, was impressionable, if not lost in the shuffle because of fidelity standards. When cataloging and reassessing this first half of the year I returned to Nerve City, as I remembered Boyer’s static monotone fondly and thought he deserved more than just a second or third spin. Just in time, though, where debut full-length records from similarly decrepit bluesmen and subterranean cavemen like Medication and Box Elders failed to achieve what was accomplished in shorter formats, Boyer’s bellow does the opposite by growing and growing, eventually sticking in the heart of darkness all of us possess, proving the longer he shreds the better he gets.

I’ve been inundated with his work as of late, first with a self-titled collection of his earliest recordings compiled by Sweet Rot and secondly by the Sleepwalker EP, which is the fourth installment in Sacred Bones’ so-far-killer 12-inch series. Honestly, both artifacts are essential, as Nerve City’s deep dingy cavernous hideout is a place where sound transmits as mirage. His is a visage of distant howls and primal scraps that seem to travel along a timeless thread, even though it’s only Boyer knocking around in the basement, recording through tin cans and constructing massive pockets of reverb to catch his staunch loner musings in a young, but already stagnant, century. His songs tend to embody stagnancy and complacency, preferring sharp lo-fi jeremiads cut with a subtle, yet entrancing, equalizer of nihilism to express regret, complaint, and cautionary hope. It’s as if there’s no need to rebuild when there’s a “Junkyard” needing sifting through and being thoroughly abused.

I’m not exactly sure if we are to consider this collection of recordings from 2007 and 2008 Boyer’s proper debut record, but even when you can tell these are the demos, i.e. the beginning, it’s nevertheless addictive throughout. These are sub-two-minute stabs that you want to hear on repeat. There’s plenty of hero worship going on in Nerve City’s warped circuits: the Troggs, the Elevators, Santo and Johnny, Hank Williams, Dylan—fuck even the White Stripes earliest yelps find their way onto the tracks. I’d like to imagine, though, that aping the past is secondary to destroying the future. “I Am Alive” would translate perfect for any number of dream-psych JAMC imitators these days, but Boyer completely blows smoke through the song, creating a miasma of fluctuating drone and infinite echo to give the proceedings a sonic surrealism. “Holy Ghosts” achieves its mission as haunted pop, but is so perfectly blown out that the refuse of feedback and white noise is a specter in and of itself. “The End” completes the worthwhile evolution of Boyer’s early years, reverting back and recording the song from what sounds like the end of a mile-long hallway.

The Sleepwalker EP is much more cohesive, perhaps hoping to keep the listener in one spectrum for the duration instead of throwing out curveballs of distorted matter. Which is the better of the two releases is completely up for debate depending on perspective, but if you’re hoping to tap directly into the bloodline of Boyer than you won’t find anything better than “Feelings,” a song that summates the gritty garage aesthetes of his earliest work with the melodic sixth sense that keeps trying to infiltrate the obfuscations in place. Even more tuneful is the title track, a Byrdsian jangle that doesn’t leave much for interpretation. It’s bittersweet and mournful, but brimming with sunshine ascensions that show a serious evolution from the past. Nerve City, under this light, is no less rewarding, just not as menacing, and as a result, vulnerable and able to display that flicker of a future for the dying medium Boyer’s chosen to relay.