[27 January 2014]
Being cool, calm, and collected can be seen as both virtuous and flawed. Generally, a leader seen to be too cool sometimes lacks the backbone to make the arduous decisions affect the people he or she represents. From a musician’s standpoint, being too nonchalant and restrained sometimes characterizes a boring, unexcitable album. Malaysian singer/songwriter Yuna epitomizes the aforementioned adjectives, generally trending on the more chill side of things. While her eclectic blend of alt-pop and soul leans more in a reserved direction, Yuna makes a sound statement nonetheless. Nocturnal turns out to be quite compelling, finding Yuna in good voice, riding atop brilliant and thoughtful production.
“Falling” opens Nocturnal sensationally, sporting a hybrid indie-pop/indie-soul vibe about it. Yuna herself remains cool through her vocal performance, delivering a TKO without breaking a sweat or resorting to vocal histrionics. Restrained yet chocked-full, “Falling” establishes Yuna’s musicianship from the outset and doesn’t let up. A brilliant opening salvo, “Falling” serves a superb springboard for the tracks to come. “Mountains”, the sophomore cut, certainly has a difficult act to follow. Despite its lot, “Mountains” bucks adversity, continuing to find band and singer on autopilot. Yuna’s vocal tone is nothing haunting, only adding sweetness to the stunning backdrop of including piano, synths, percussion, and heart-wrenching strings. The way that she executes certain lyrics—such as “Place me in a corner, inside your heart / so that you can remember, baby when I’m gone”—is nothing short of scrumptious.
“Rescue” keeps things rolling along exceptionally, delivering what ends up being an uplifting number that plays antithetically to its title. Things begin unenthusiastically (“She think she’s all alone and all her hopes are gone”), but grow more resilient and positive (“So I wrote this song so she can move along”). By the chorus, Yuna is singing exuberantly and full-throated: “Yeah! She’s got a light in her face, she don’t need no rescuing she’s okay / No S.O.S. needed, no rescuing she’s fine out there.” On “Lights and Camera”, Yuna keeps things both soulful and classy, without necessarily superseding the three home runs preceding it. Yuna loses no swag, but “Lights and Camera” doesn’t enthrall quite like the former cuts. “Lovely Intermission” does, however, rival the opening trio. After being “uninspired” and needing “a miracle to believe in love,” Yuna finds it via her lovely intermission, “the one that I’ve been waiting, waiting for you.” Thematically, “Lovely Intermission” shines radiantly.
“Someone Who Can” continues a thoughtful combination of songwriting and spot-on vocals. Add to those attributes a danceable, driving groove and fine production work by Chad Hugo (of the Neptunes), and “Someone Who Can” continues to deliver consistency. “I Want You Back” trades in the dancing shoes for a more soulful sound—think Corinne Bailey Rae as a comparison. Vocally, Yuna remains both clear as a bell and nuanced. The soulful soundscape is perfect accompaniment to this yearning number, where Yuna seems desperate to get her lover back (“You’re the best thing I ever known / Close my eyes and hold my breath, hoping that we pass this test”). Desperateness certainly makes for a captivating showing. “Come Back” is more enthusiastic than the former cut, even as Yuna seems concerned about keeping her man for numerous, relevant reasons. Ultimately, she believes once she “comes back,” everything will be fine. Regardless, there’s no major rub about the song.
Love continues to dominate Yuna’s thoughts on “Colors”, which again embraces an alt-pop quality. The chorus and the production both shine, even if “Colors” isn’t necessarily among the top tier cuts of. “I Wanna Go” was penned solely by Zarai, who particularly sounds in top-notch singer/songwriter mode. As the penultimate track, it certainly propels the momentum to the close of the album. “Escape” closes Nocturnal well, though perhaps fails to match the same excitability and energy of the valedictory opener.
Ultimately, Nocturnal is a well-rounded album with legitimate crossover appeal. Chill and hip enough for the soul lovers yet singer-songwriter enough to appeal to the indie crowd, Nocturnal is an effort that shouldn’t be underrated in the least. The album may grow a bit same-ish over its course, but overall, it holds up magnificently.