The centerpiece of Offers, the second record from the Chicago group NE-HI, is Jason Balla’s guitar. It’s the first sound to appear on the record, cutting a jagged course across the center of album-opener “Palm of Hand,” swerving between the loose rhythm, speeding up and slowing down at will. While the band cites austere post-punkers Wire as a specific influence on Offers, the music here has none of that group’s coldness; instead, Offers is—mostly—bright and upbeat, demonstrating the same grasp of light, airy melody as New Zealanders The Bats. Indeed, the gorgeous, gently-pulsing chorus of “Don’t Wanna Know You” sounds like it could have been lifted from that band’s back catalogue.
That ease is especially significant given that Offers was born of struggle and almost sandbagged by overthinking. The band’s rising profile in their home city caused principal songwriters Balla and Mikey Wells to panic, concerned their writing wasn’t matching the increased attention. But instead of doubling-down on that anxiety, on Offers, the band moves in the other direction, letting songs unfold slowly and deliberately. The haunting, slow-build title track moves from a simple nest of guitars to a big, churning finale, Wells and Balla stretching a single sung note as the band heaves away behind them. “Everybody Warned You” is a tender, sad-eyed ballad that clears out its middle section for a twirling, melodic guitar solo. Even the album’s tenser moments put the guitar way out front—the pogo-ing “Prove,” which recalls the nervous energy of early Parquet Courts, bounces on a taut coil of guitar.
They even manage to make the album’s few moments of darkness sound optimistic. On the bitter music-industry kiss-off “Buried on the Moon,” a leaping guitar lead offsets the acid in the song’s chorus: “Come on, make a record like your dear old dad/ We’ll give you all the money and make you feel sad.” Offers may be the product of that Faustian deal, but the results are anything but melancholy.
—J. Edward Keyes