On his third album under the Nightlands banner, David Hartley has wandered even further from the sound of his day-job, bassist with War on Drugs. Although, on the strength of this music, the notion of this being a side-project seems wholly inadequate. The hints were there on Disappearing and Lost in The Dream but here the tempo has dropped and the atmosphere has warmed. Nightlands’ debut, Forget the Mantra, was an experimental decoy and the stylistic jump to 2013’s Oak Island seems now to be a stepping stone to a destination that you feel has been reached on I Can Feel the Night Around Me.
The exercises in multi-tracked vocals on Oak Island have now been focused into blue-sky pop songs and it’s clear from opener Lost Moon that craft has been honed and clarity has been embraced. On ‘Lost Moon‘, we’re treated to a sea-gulling Pink Floyd lick, a strummed acoustic and, a hallmark for the album in full, exquisitely layered vocals. It’s difficult to avoid the specter of The Beach Boys throughout this album, such is the richness of voice. It is accessible in a way that Oak Island rarely was. At every turn we’re introduced to a vintage hook where on Oak Island, none would be. Consummate song craft is here in abundance.
In places, such as early stand-out ‘Easy Does It‘, the music reaches a state of tranquility; plucked guitar and harp surround us while the sonic haze just shimmers and it’s beautiful. ‘Love’s in Love‘ is swaddled in cosmic incandescence, recalling Doves’ The Last Broadcast. ‘Fear of Flying‘ is joyfully rendered in playful keyboards and comforting harmonies, something akin to a balmy Super Furry Animals trip-out. There’s flickers of dissonance here and there to bring some welcome tension – notably on ‘Only You Know’. But the glorious sound of wondrous Americana is hard to suppress and echoes of Mercury Rev come spilling in to anchor the song. The idyllic charm of R.E.M’s Reveal appears at several points.
If one was pressed to find a fault, perhaps second track ‘Depending on You’ would be better placed later in the album. That said, on its own terms it works just fine. ‘You’re Silver’ sounds just a touch too inauthentic, the keyboard sounds cheap, the melody less compelling than most of the other songs. And penultimate track also Moonbathin seems like weak point but that is a relative term as here it is surrounded by such riches.
This is a confident album which should easily find an audience among fans of Hartley’s other band and has the quality to draw wider attention from anyone interested in American psychedelic indie. The whole thing is a joy to listen to.
I Can Feel The Night Around me is out now on Western Vinyl.