New York’s Undiscovered Beats

Jeff Shreve

It’s gotta be a koala. A huge zombie-koala. A zombie-koala sitting on top of cloud, with rockets streaming out in various directions below it. Happy rockets with stars on them, obviously headed merrily toward frivolous targets. I lean in further; I’m obviously missing some unifying detail that will illuminate the entire vignette. Nope. That’s everything. Well, whatever it is, it achieves its single-minded purpose; I can’t ignore it.

Me: “Hey Y, what is that thing on your t-shirt?”

Y: “Huh? Oh, this is my friend’s band, Nocturnal Revenue.”

Me: “What the hell is that thing supposed to be?”

Y: “I dunno. It’s their logo, I guess.”

It is far too early on a Saturday morning for me to crank up the mental gears and solve this riddle, so I file it with the rest of the things science can’t yet explain. Quantum mechanics, the processes of the human mind, the detailed workings of our DNA, and the koala t-shirt. Reasoning aside, the logo continues to worm itself into my consciousness, and I find myself at Nocturnal Revenue’s Myspace site. The koala welcomes me. Rockets speed along their predestined route. And out streams their music.

I am now officially screwed.

I’m screwed because Nocturnal Revenue’s music is heartfelt. It’s honest. It’s personal and intimate and sorrowful and quiet and various other embarrassingly tender adjectives. And that’s just the first song I hear, Untimely. And now I’m fucked because…I have to admit that I like it. I want to live in it. I want it to be raining on my face in March while I stare at Manhattan’s skyline. And that’s going to cost me a lot of street cred. That doesn’t matter anymore, though. The koala stands defiantly, arms outstretched, just trying to survive in this cruel world. Just trying to defend itself through rocket warfare. Anyone else would do the same, right? Of course they would. In fact, they have.

It’s right about now that I decide it’s time to stop just making stuff up. It’s not fair to the koala, you know? Plus, I think I’ve run out of material. And time. So I bite the bullet, heave a sigh, and e-mail Gary, the point person for Nocturnal Revenue, in search of the actual truth, keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that the koala plays a prevalent role in the real story. Here are the facts, laid bare for all to see.

The story reads like one of those first grade learner books. Gary and Rel went to high school together. They played in bands together. Gary and Rel went to different colleges. Gary studied creative writing. Rel studied music. Gary and Rel started exchanging their music over the internet (that’s right, Postal Service, the INTERNET, you poor outmoded bastards). Gary had a dream. Gary heard someone say “nocturnal revenue” in his dream. Maybe. He thinks. Rel thinks Gary was dreaming about hookers. Regardless, they both liked the sound of it. Gary and Rel contacted Talkseek, a graphic artist. Talkseek drew a koala. With rockets. This made Gary and Rel happy. Their music had a name, a face, and a Myspace. And a t-shirt. And now a curious writer.

I like to pretend that I am a seasoned veteran of music. I like to think I can listen to something once, fingers steepled under my chin while exuding a pretentious professionalism, and pass judgment on the historical lineage and influences of a singer’s voice or band’s guitar texture. It’s all bullshit, and it becomes increasingly hard for me to carry out that pageant when faced with Nocturnal Revenue’s songs. They just hit too close to home. Just like every kid growing up, I thought that my life was a mini-drama at the time. If only Nocturnal Revenue had been in my Walkman back then. These guys have not only written the perfect soundtrack for the teenage soap opera, they’ve actually written your soundtrack. They have the ability to pull you into their songs completely and convince you that each one was written about that one time when that chick you really liked kissed you once and never talked to you again. The pain cuts so deep.

Or maybe that’s just my particular weakness for this music. I swear, if I were a superhero, my fatal flaw would be the heart-breaking, angst-ridden, sadly dignified music of bands like Death Cab, Bright Eyes, Ani Difranco (stop laughing!), and now Nocturnal Revenue. All my arch-nemesis would have to do is lure me into some soundproof studio, coffee shop, or listening station, pump that music in, and watch my eyes go wide like a puppy dog. I would start questioning how well I’d lived my life, if I had told others I loved them enough, if I had been true to my dreams, etc., you know, embarrassing shit like that. Meanwhile, the people of Metropolis would be pretty much fucked.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hate what Nocturnal Revenue has done to me and they are responsible for unfathomable loss of human life. They need to answer for their crimes, especially for the opening guitar arpeggios on Pointless Pleasure. The exceedingly intricate pattern of notes cascades down quietly, creating the most realistic and delicate image of rain I’ve ever heard. The two guitars (Gary and Rel both play guitar and sing, and Rel adds percussion on their recordings) pound out pulsing chordal waves underneath the verse, carrying it along seamlessly like a hand tracing its way through the wind passing outside a car window. The lyrics remain just vague enough to allow every listener to fashion their own interpretation, which is of course the key to getting people to identify with your music.

She screams as she bleeds blue and gold on the paper.

A quiver runs through her spine, she sublimes, and yet her hands never waver.

She sighs, she surprise everyone, her disguise never ceases to amaze her.

She says, “Jealousy, ravage me, can you do me a favor?”

Burn the sin off my arms and from behind my eyes.

I say, take the wheel, it’s your turn to drive.

She says no, silly boy, don’t you notice, why I’ve gone insane.

Maybe you’re to blame.

Now I’m pretty sure no girl ever asked me to “burn the sin off her arms and from behind her eyes”, but every time I hear Pointless Pleasure I am convinced that not only was the song about a high school road trip I took with my girlfriend, it was also actually playing on the radio during most of the drive. Which I’m pretty sure is impossible.

Another favorite of mine is Nocturnal Revenue’s Restless Hands. The song is composed mainly of an insistent eighth-note rhythm pushing the chord changes on impatiently. It’s a simple riff, modified slightly for the chorus, with two verses and a chorus of lyrics added. As a result, the content of the story becomes the focus. The music is just a tool used to serve the lyrics by adding an unspoken layer of emotional context. As Rel said (much more succinctly than I just did), “simplicity allows for the greatest amount of sincere expression”. This just makes a lot of sense to me. Such genuine sentiment is probably the main reason people find it easy to identify with the band’s music; they just want to be real. Perhaps when Nocturnal Revenue sings, “Nostalgic narcotics tell me of a life that’s not my own,” they’re subconsciously allowing me to believe that it’s my life they’re describing. That Pointless Pleasure really is about my Duluth road trip. That Untimely is actually about that long-distance college relationship that failed freshman year. It totally makes sense now! They are describing my life!

Gary decides not to confront my growing hysteria. He puts it this way: “I love the fact that each line and riff has a little meaning to me that nobody will ever understand, yet the listener seems to always connect. They make their own interpretation and the songs become art. Isn’t that what music’s all about?”

I guess that just about sums up the skill of Nocturnal Revenue’s songwriting. Now all I have to do is wait for the song about a koala zombie (after which I’ll think, “That song is so about that time when that koala zombie broke up with me!”), and I’ll be satisfied.

Nocturnal Revenue can be found on Myspace at To see Gary live, check out his main group, A Date with Destiny, at any of their upcoming gigs listed below. Details are on their page at

March 11th @ 9pm @ the Pussycat Lounge in NYC

March 24th @ 8pm @ Mr. Beery’s in Bethpage, NY

April 4th @ 11pm @ the Crash Mansion in NYC