Emerging from underground venues in Chicago’s Northwest side, NE-HI made its name on both its live energy and cleverly wrought guitar anthems. On its second album Offers (Grand Jury), the band takes those basement-forged instincts and refines them, lets its guitars explore new angles, and focuses its songwriting. The result shows there are a wide range of post-punk possibilities yet to be explored.
It all started at Animal Kingdom, a flash-in-the-pan DIY basement in Chicago’s Logan Square. There, in the summer of 2013, three friends from college, Jason Balla (guitar/vocals), Mikey Wells (guitar/vocals) and James Weir (bass) linked up with drummer Alex Otake to score a buddy’s film and decided to start bashing around together as NE-HI. NE-HI’s more ambitious sound and heady arrangements broke away from garage rock’s back-to-basic’s approach. The band’s disparate influences–Wire’s post-punk, Springsteen’s everyman anthems, along with echoes of dreamy atmospheres of Dave Roback’s Rain Parade and the jangly buzz of Kiwi pop legends The Clean–began burning through. The band attracted the attention of Dave Vettraino, who asked NE-HI to record at his Public House Recordings studio for posting on his website. Vettraino would go on to record the band’s debut album. The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot gave the debut the #4 spot in his 2014 year-end list.
Offers is NE-HI finding that rising to the occasion means living up to your own standards, not someone else’s. The band entered Chicago’s Minbal studio in January 2016 to record ten songs with Vettraino engineering, but scrapped most of the session. To finish the record, NE-HI went back to touring, writing, rewriting and returned to Minbal in March more solid than ever. It recorded most of Offers live at Minbal to capture the energy–only overdubbing vocals.
Offers drones, it captivates with soaring pop, it shimmers with atmosphere, always changing, looking. The album veers from the staccato pop of “Palm of Hand” (which nods to Chicago’s Disappears) to the jangly pleasures of “Stay Young.” The off-kilter, ultra-catchy “Sisters” refines the carefree feeling of the band’s debut–picking up the spirit of New Zealand pop. Title track “Offers” feels like a slight departure, the band pushing its most abstract and unpredictable instincts. On “Prove” the band’s post-punk guitars come at blistering tempo, it’s the band’s most athletic moment yet. While the punchy drawl of “Buried on the Moon” conjures a less sleepy Let’s Active.
Offers finds the distant influence of forebears in cerebral guitar pop presented with a familiarity that typifies great FM rock hits. The Midwestern boys (two from Chicago, one from Wisconsin, and one from Minnesota) in NE-HI have a knack for knitting something comfortable and warm from those art school cast-offs and cult favorites. NE-HI’s music demands to be lived in. Chances are good that in the case of Offers, regifting will be rare.