published: 7 /
Tai Duo Music
Eclectic twelfth album from Chicago-formed band Nature’s Neighbor which reflects upon the current pandemic
The personnel on Nature’s Neighbor's twelfth recording, ‘Otherside’ consists of Mike Walker, Terrill Mast, Benni Perkins, Brandon Studer, Seth Engel and Perry Cowdery.
The original line-up of 2010 consisted of Columbia College (Chicago) students: Mike Walker, Daniel Lee and Mike Nardono, although Nature’s Neighbor has since freely rotated the lineup.
An excerpt from the press release states: “While making this album it really felt like the world was falling apart all around us and I think the songs strongly reflect that feeling.” That the tracks were created during the isolation of the pandemic is indeed deeply reflected in the transparency of the lyrical content, and as such is a reminder of how much the global music community has endured.
‘When the Wind Cuts Your Skin’ is built around a truculent guitar riff and precision drumming. ‘Perch Privileges’ centres around dreamy lead vocals which are offset by distinctive percussion and lounge-style piano. Besides the gritty reference to urban sonics, such as “ambulance sirens,” that feeling of isolation is underscored: “staying inside watching the world go by until the day we die.”
In ‘Dreadnought,” there is more fear and uncertainty: “I’m scared, you know. Feel my heart turn cold.” The introductory measures reveal a series of non-western instruments. Moving forward, the soundscape includes a bright chorus of escalating harmonies. The piano solo provides a gorgeous grounding effect.
In ‘Great Ol’ Happy Time,’ there is more frank description: “Day by day my brain decays/I’d say they’re taking me away.” A disarming acoustic drone highlights the folky melodic line.
In contrast, ‘Bold Move’ stresses blips and bleeps and a forceful bass line. Brandon Studer was the wunderkind behind the contemporary electronic introduction. ‘After the Dark’ has a Neil Young-type rhythm and cool, acoustic vibe with its “dream of secret songs.”
‘Shades of Yesteryear’ features the wails of a harmonium and creeping bass against Perkin’s refreshingly jazzy vocals, which gives the album an entirely new feel. It’s easy to get delightfully lost in this richly, orchestrated ballad, where textures heighten at warp-speed.
‘Monday Morning Drive’— “So glad that I survive” reflects a short-lived optimism, as the narrative soon turns to “bitterwinds.” The whispered lead vocals and simple chording on ‘Pocket Lullaby’ belie the flip side: “There are monsters in your closet.” What begins as a meditative listen becomes an all-out think-piece.
‘First Mother’s Day’ is a heart-tugging one-off, built around a very personal email message by Brandon Studer “at the epicentre of the strangeness.” “Having a child in this broken--down machine called New York City,” he speaks glowingly about his newborn and how he plans to “equip” his son.
‘Forest Walk’ is a delirious blend of acoustic instrumentation with an equally strong message. “You’re lifting boulders, like they throw stones.” The track recalls the smoothness of Sufjan Stevens. The call and response between lead vocals and keys is especially smart and fresh.
On ‘Otherside of Town,’ the open-voicings on the piano, the laid-back approach to the vocals and the overall cinematic feel make this an excellent closer--“Take a step, watch your neck, as this may be your last sunrise.”
This creative undertaking flaunts the use of baglama, zhang ruan, mellotron, melodica, tabla and more to give the listener a unique feast of sonics.
Where the Wind Cuts Your Skin
Great Ol' Happy Time
After the Dark
Shades of Yesteryear
Monday Morning Drive
First Mother's Day
Otherside of Town
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