Examiner, the debut release from local guitarist and songwriter Nick Politelli, is a well-crafted rock record that mixes tight hooks with experimental grooves.
Politelli started playing music around age 20 while studying abroad in London, initially fashioning himself as a folkster “hybrid between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.” Back in his native RI, he picked up the electric guitar when he joined the band Ravi Shavi. He also joined the band Lookers as a guitarist soon after and began writing songs on the side. His first publicly released song, “Absent Minded Fool,” came out on Ravi Shavi’s Special Hazards in 2020.
For the production and recording, Politelli employed the services of a major songwriting influence: Keith Zarriello of the NYC cult favorite the Shivers. He was initially turned on to the band by Ravi Shavi bandmate Rafay Rashid, who also served as co-producer on the record.
Examiner was recorded over two humid weekends in June of 2021 at a cabin studio not far from Woodstock, NY operated by a friend of Zarriello’s. “There was no running water, and I woke up in the mornings flicking ticks off my arm,” said Politelli.
“I immediately loved Nick’s demos, and to me it was refreshing to hear catchy rock songs after so long,” said Zarriello. “I wanted to make sure we were innovative in some way and didn’t try to copy anyone else too much. I think it’s important that rock/guitar music continues to innovate and embrace experimentalism otherwise I fear it will become pure revivalism.”
Zarriello’s influence can be felt throughout. He played many of the bass parts, as well as some live and programmed drums, and arranged the song “While We’re Still Lonely,” which previously sounded nothing like the final version. The song is built on a patchwork of simple guitar harmonies over a slow R&B groove, and Politelli noted that the close mic’d vocal lends a more vulnerable feel.
“If there’s one element that made this EP identifiable,” said Politelli, “I’d say it’s actually the snare sound. Keith had it locked in when I arrived at the studio. I’m not sure how he discovered it, but it was perfect for the project.”
Named for his day job as a real estate title examiner, the record at times recalls ’70s New York bands like Television and the Talking Heads, and their ability to build a song from the ground up based on simple, biting guitar riffs. “Caramelize the Light,” which Politelli cites as his favorite, employs a kind of spoken word crooning.
“Mind is Racing (all the way over in the right lane)” examines the urban sprawl, complete with local references to Newport’s Freebody Park and sweet bread. “That one originated with me staring out my old apartment window, being angry about condo development in my neighborhood,” said Politelli.
Initially he didn’t think “Mirah,” with its sparse lyrics and a repetitive groove, was even a real song. “Keith convinced me to put it on the record. I believe in it now, but I certainly didn’t then.”
My pick is “Unholy Lonely,” the pitch perfect pop song which Politelli stated was his attempt at writing a Shivers-style tune.
Because the studio time was limited, Politelli turned to Deer Tick drummer Dennis Ryan to fill in some of the gaps. Ryan lended some additional engineering, and played some drums and bass.
For Politelli, taking the plunge into making his own music worked out. “I basically started this effort without a band –or much of anything –and relied heavily on my musical friends to help make it happen.”
He has recently put together a band of his own, and still plays with Ravi Shavi and Lookers.