Nikita was born from the limiting circumstances of the Covid 19 pandemic. Following Salvage’s solo LP, Coyote Hasten – full of stark, stirring acoustic folk-rock – as John Salvage & New Twenty Saints, the group formed as a result of the lockdown. “We had met through playing shows together in different bands around Detroit and talked about jamming right before Covid hit…We are very much a product of Covid as we wouldn’t have had the time to get together pre-lockdown. We bonded as a group very quickly as practice was an escape.” The pandemic created vast social rifts between individuals, and this isolation led Salvage, Evan Eklund, Josh Budiongan, and Kirk Scarbrough to immerse themselves in their music.
Released through Outer Limits Lounge Records, Nikita certainly carries an immersive quality. You can almost see Salvage’s eyes squeezed shut as he sings. The catchy melodies in “Howling” by themselves give the album substantial replay value, pulling listeners into its current of steady rhythm. Passionate yet nonchalant, Nikita is full of vintage alternative rock tunes mixed with folk and country-inspired ballads. It’s a collection of nine songs that move and sweat like a live performance. Not only driven by powerful melodies, Nikita also carries a swag that provides effortless guitar textures and deliberately paced rhythms.
Much of the album rolls in mid-tempo momentum without slogging or sounding tedious. The songs sometimes feel like wind-blown hair, yet they also build and release tension appropriately. Balladesque jams like “Bound” and “Stand in the Way” sway in breezy, persistent grooves. More rocking tunes like “Fade Away” and “Don’t Try Molina” are just as balanced but also produce plenty of energy released in weighty downbeat.
A deep-seated zeal to their instrumentation – including a fervent harmonica humming here and there – invokes liveliness and charisma. These are songs that grip the mic stand, pushing and pulling intensely. If their studio time for the album was painstaking, it isn’t apparent. Even acoustic jams like “Trouble Boys” and “Gone Dark” are energetic while maintaining intimacy, filling the proximity of a backyard bonfire with late-hour liveliness.
This dogged intensity makes Nikita resonate with the band’s enthusiasm from the start. The first sounds of the album’s opener, “Waking Up the Horse”, set an exuberant tone: fuzzy guitars leading into a steady beat and measured shouts. It’s a barrelling headbanger, a stampeding song with reigns held by a soloing guitar at the end. Lyrically, the song implies a sense of calamity (“Everybody shouting when they got no control”) and the necessity for making noise when freedom is scarce.
Salvage’s lyrics suggest anxiety in several ways: learning hard truths through experience, a looming end to livelihood and the spirit, and the need to shout and unleash the pressure that builds up inside individuals from living day to day in an unsympathetic world. “Nikita’s coming gonna grab you up / Nikita’s coming gonna drown someday,” Salvage sings in the title track. There’s a sense of anxiety and oncoming disorder, a vague, undefinable, yet unavoidable darkness. Through resolute ballads and bold, straightforward rock songs, Nikita reflects and even personifies this sense of impending terminality. It’s an alluring juxtaposition of music and meaning, making Nikita a thoroughly human batch of songs delivered with classic, guitar-driven styles.