Once, when questioned about her favorite music that predated the 2000s, the Bloomington-based songwriter Madeline Robinson balked a bit, and nodded toward the floral bliss of 60s yé-yé, before admitting that really, she was content to be operating in her current moment. So much of what's happening right now is really special and so inspiring,” she told the blog The Le Sigh. “We're in the middle of something good.”
Robinson’s not wrong, especially if you’re into the sort of music she makes as Nice Try—clever, freewheeling pop music that’s happy to rip its own heart out then proudly tack it to its sleeves with a safety pin or three. Between the vibrant stables of labels like Double Double Whammy and Father/Daughter, as well as breakout successes like the newly Sub Pop-signed Frankie Cosmos (who Nice Try toured with last year), this sort of humble, winning indie-pop has slowly become one of the most exciting strands of rock music, and there’s a glut of it out there for anyone who finds themselves reflected in this sort of stuff.
Nice Try’s long been a staple of this loosely affiliated scene. Robinson’s been releasing music as Nice Try since 2013, and as Madeline Ava for even longer. She and her constant drumming companion Kahler Willits have become staples of the DIY circuit—a fellow scene stalwart once wrote that “Madeline's name is like a password in the national house show underground.” It's for good reason that they’ve become so well-liked. Nice Try released a self-titled tape back in 2016, full of songs of romantic and existential anxiety and a careful self-possession, alongside the winningly ramshackle instrumentation. In the years since they’ve only really issued one of singles and contributed to compilations (their track on The Le Sigh Vol. III is a charming tape on a record full of them), but their take on the sound has slowly smoothed out some of the rough edges.
Today, they’re back with another new single called “Smart” the first from a record that they’re self-releasing at some point in late 2018. Like their previous work, it’s a self-probing pop song set to a gleefully distorted guitar line. But Robinson’s writing with a newfound perspective this time around—overlapping dizzy harmonies in gleeful collages as she sings of the ways other people warp your self-perception.
“I started writing the words for 'Smart' years ago, after I'd spent a long time building up the courage to share my feelings with someone,” Robinson wrote via email. “It's about being tricked into thinking your feelings are ignorant or unimportant, because someone you love or respect chooses not to take you seriously. I finished the actual song very recently and it's nice being able to feel so self-assured now, comparatively.”
It feels both sickly sweet and spinning out of control, sorta like a buzzsaw chewing up one of those oversized gummy bears, a testament perhaps to the new production value Nice Try have achieved this time around. She was right, years ago when referring to the work of her peers, but it applies just as much to “Smart”—we’re in the middle of something good indeed.