Music

Folk's Jeb Loy Nichols Says We Are in 'Season of Decline'

Photo: Courtesy of Compass Records

Jeb Loy Nichols finds humor in ambiguity, and real sadness in the joy of being in the current moment on his new EP, Season of Decline.

Season of Decline
Jeb Loy Nichols

Compass Records

19 June 2020

Jeb Loy Nichols' quiet new release Season of Decline is just a short six-song EP, but it contains a more transcendent punch than most albums twice its size. Nichols sings in a muted voice and softly strums his acoustic guitar. As a result, the recording is intimate. He lowers the volume of his instrument and his vocals when he wants to make a point, although he mostly keeps things on a steady keel. He sings of past glories and disappointments, present circumstances, and the promise of the future with the same tranquility. The American-born, Welsh denizen understands that sometimes being hushed is just the other side of the coin from shouting and can be the best way to express one's spiritual discomfort.

On the EP's title tune, Nichols notes that we are on the "Season of Decline". He goes through a litany of ills and complaints, from the death of a drunken driver to an unhappy horse trying to get a drink at the bar, attempting to get to the deeper truths. Whether Nichols is sitting in a forest, a garden, a train station, breaking into someone's home to watch TV or listening to windchimes, finding snakes in his bed, or getting unwelcome packages, he remains uncertain of what the deal is. He doesn't know if life keeps getting worse or if it's just a temporary malaise. He enigmatically sings, "The only ones who can see me are brother Ray and Stevie / My taste is gone my hearings bad I'm slowly going blind / I never felt better in the season of decline." There's humor in the ambiguity and real sadness in the joy of being in the current moment.

This attitude pervades the other five cuts in different ways. Nichols sings, "I promised all the earth to her / And all I ever brought was dirt" in a song about true love ("Dirt"). The muscle car ("GTO") in his backyard will probably never be drivable except in his imagination, but that's almost enough as long as Merle Haggard's on the radio and he has his girl beside him. The sense of the absurd saves him from being maudlin and offers glimmers of hope. Even when he feels despondent, he finds some humor.

Nichols offers telling observations that enrich his stories and deepen the particular narratives into something bigger and more profound. There something dreamlike in the way he endows specifics into symbols of feelings that are hard to put into words without distorting their meaning. One might not understand exactly what "Blue music on the water / Blackbird nights" on the sad but beautiful love story "Apple Blossom Time" means. But the place described contrasts to the Big Apple streets where he finds himself ("B boys on Avenue A / Stray dogs in Tompkins Square / Old lady preaching on the corner") suggests how out of place he feels in New York City ("So tiny in this world / So pitiful and small"). Nichols may be morose, but he remembers the good times.

It's tempting to see the six tracks as a concept album about the death of a loved one. That is never explicitly stated as much as suggestively referenced between the lines. However, it is the central conceit of Am I the One for You. The irony of asking whether he has found his true love, and she is dead, is a bitter one. "They say time can heal the terror / Of every common pain," Nichols sings and then continues, "But what they say is in error / True grief always remains." That's a hard truth learned from experience. This record serves a way of coming to terms with the human condition.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.