Music

Nouela: Chants

What seems simple and painfully austere on the first listen becomes bitterly emotional by the third or fourth. As long as Johnston continues to provide us with more lonely, yet rousing, sinuous jazz songs, we will be “suckers for her sorrow.”


Nouela

Chants

Label: The Control Group
US Release Date: 2012-07-12
UK Release Date: 2012-07-12
Amazon
iTunes

Pink, Madonna, Adele, Beyonce, Bjork, Shakira … the pop music catalog is full of female artists who are on a first name basis with the public, and now there is one more artist to add to the list. Formerly calling her project People Eating People, Seattle pianist and vocalist Nouela Johnston has turned in her zombie motif for a simple nametag: Nouela .But the name change isn’t the only modification Johnston has applied to her music: with the elimination of guitars, more central percussion, and tribal flares, Nouela gives fans a new album completely singular from People Eating People’s feisty and beguiling self-titled debut.

While People Eating People offers a mix of impish and playful songs such as “All the Hospitals” and “I Hate All My Friends” along light and quirky songs like “Rain, Rain,” Chants comes in poles apart with something much angrier and deliberate. An introduction to the album’s curdling despair, “Joke” is a sluggish and melancholic light jazz song featuring Johnston’s sultry and telling vocals. What seems simple and painfully austere on the first listen becomes bitterly emotional by the third or fourth. But just as you adapt to the icy and remote musicscape of “Joke,” you are jerked into the rigid urgency of “Buckle Down” with no warning at all. In fact the entire album seems to be lacking in transitions. The haunting piano and percussion riffs in “Buckle Down” abruptly transform to “Fight”’s choppy, energetic and irresistible beat. These instant switches make Chants a thrilling and fantastic musical funhouse.

Though so many songs participate in this wonderful and strange fantasy, this album is not without its misfortunes. Often compared to a wide spectrum of artists including Regina Spektor, Tori Amos, and Norah Jones, Johnston proves that she is not a facsimile of every other girl with a piano … that is until the fourth song on this album. The opening riff sounds like a slightly dismal rip off of the frothy beginning to Regina Spektor’s “Us”. What’s missing is Spektor’s supreme kitsch and quirkiness, which is perhaps why it is so disappointing. By this point in the album, we know that Johnston is more than capable of creating her own brand of eccentricity.

But altogether the misfortunes are few. Chants shows Johnston’s growth as a musician. Her understanding of jazz is evident in this album where it was not so clear in People Eating People. Songs such as “Secrets,” “Suckers”, and “Regrets” are like smooth tides of jazz, resounding as honest and subtle tributes to musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Nina Simone.

Chants establishes a new sound for Nouela Johnston, one that is both gripping and affecting. Each of these one word-titled songs, though distinctive, mesh beautifully together to create an emotional and dream-like album. In comparison to Johnston’s debut People Eating People, her latest release reflects her careful consideration of both unity and direction when it came to crafting her music. As long as Johnston continues to provide us with more lonely, yet rousing, sinuous jazz songs, we will be “suckers for her sorrow.”

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image