NYC duo Gardenia dropped their debut album May 26th, and in eight songs they really show off what they can do. It’s just bass, vocals, and drums (with a few other tidbits here and there), but Knowing You Know Nothing proves that’s all these two need. They met working together at a local studio and started the band in 2018, and vocalist/bassist Ry Zakin’s fuzzy bass manages to float effortlessly between rhythm and melody while drummer Tamir Malik’s skillful beats set the tone for each tune as the band shows off its range. No two songs are quite alike, but they all have one thing in common: “We’re pissed, and you should be too,” the duo says is the message of the album
The first track and lead single “Hall Pass” is a grungey tune that will also appeal to fans of pop. It ramps up from a simple bassline and soft vocals about astrology into a wildly catchy chorus. This is one of those tracks that anyone can (and will) bop their head to.
“Hall Pass” is followed by “Daydream Nightmare”, which gives us a taste of something a little more unhinged and angry as Zakin’s words loop behind him and he screams his own backup vocals. And the lyrics are clever, too: “You tell me ‘chase my dreams’ like I don’t die in all of them.”
The focus track, “Believe Me (or don’t)”, actually starts off with the quietest little riff. What these two are amazing at is getting from point A to point B, because before you know it you’re nodding along to a sludgy chorus that invokes something 90s and furious. This is one where Zakin’s voice (and the echoes of it that whisper in the background) really shines. It’s a very simple song, with a simple chorus and a simple subject matter—but the duo clearly knows how to make simplicity work. Of the track, Zakin says, “There’s a ton of songs out there about cheating, but I noticed that most of them took the stance of being cheated on, and I thought it would be interesting to write about it from the instigator’s perspective.”
The next song is my personal favorite, “Mattress Actress”. This one doesn’t start slow; we get right into a fun, quick bass riff over some weird, cool synthy pick slide thing, and then a grunt—yes, a grunt!—that takes us into a deep, dirty rock track where Malik’s drums dazzle and Zakin’s voice manages to be some fantastic combination of 90s punk and 70s classic rock that does everything you’d need a guitar to do melody-wise. This track’s got clever, amusing lyrics and it’s just an absolute jam, if you ask me.
“I Hope Ur Crying” is slow and heavy, and there’s something hopeful in it: the transition from the speaker’s sadness into powerful, righteous anger reads more like an invocation than a depression. And in contrast, the next song, “Black Perfume,” sounds like when you are walking down a street in Manhattan late at night. Moody, almost a little jazzy, this one proves that just bass and drums can still be melodic and crisp, with a fantastic bass solo in the middle, and a little Mission Impossible-esque riff cutting through the verses.
“Maybe I’m Just Being Paranoid” starts out creepy, a little psychedelic. A little more experimental than the other tracks on this album, this one starts with a whisper (“You’re paranoid / relentless…” over and over and over), but then later we get a droning distorted bridge and a skillful solo backed by alienesque synths, and the last few bars, a few strums of a phaser-y bass between some of Malik’s awesome drum solos, bring us out with bang.
Gardenia live (photos by Kate Hoos)
Finally, “All the Ugly Things” is edgy, urban, and definitely pissed: “Wouldn’t you be angry too?” It goes from zero to a hundred between the verses and chorus. Malik has another chance to show off his drumming chops and he takes it, soloing some delicious fills as the last quarter of the song plays out lyricless.
With this debut, Gardenia has flaunted their range and skill. Two heads are better than one—but for them, it might be better than three, or four, or five too. They do a lot with very little, here, proving that simplicity and savvy (and some awesome rhythms) are enough to put together a solid, compelling, refreshing album.