Music

Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Photo: Eric Wines / Courtesy of the artist

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.

Nightside
Luke Cissell

Silver Squid Music

3 July 2020

Luke Cissell is a musician who seemingly can't sit still. His music bounces back and forth between genres, resulting in a discography that is dizzyingly eclectic and a godsend for adventurous listeners. Last year's String Sextets Nos 1 & 2 was a fairly traditional – yet expertly crafted – pair of 21st century chamber pieces. But previous albums, like Thinking/Feeling and Cosmography, contain elements of classical music infused with futuristic synth passages and a generous helping of bluegrass (the latter being a genre close to Cissell's heart, as he was a child fiddle prodigy in his native Louisville). What's more, in 2015 he released Backwoods, about as traditional an instrumental bluegrass album as you can get.

The lack of predictability is one of the more exciting aspects of Cissell's music. With Nightside, he is veering back toward a more synthesized and electronic style. That shouldn't distress fans of his more organic approach. Infused throughout Nightside is a strong sense of melody as if every electronic moment is deliberately tempered with something more traditional. This makes Nightside – not unlike a few of his other albums, particularly Thinking/Feeling – maddeningly difficult to categorize. Neoclassical instrumental chamber synthpop? Sure, why not?

Nightside opens with the glorious arpeggiated notes of "Oracle", with synth notes dancing around electric guitar leads and 8-bit melodies providing an unusual yet oddly calming retro atmosphere, not unlike a classical composer stuck inside a video game. The mixture of sophistication and playfulness is unique and refreshing. "Defenestration" continues along the same lines, with Cissell's violin making its first appearance, adding light classical elements to the baroque synth framework.

The synthwave approach Cissell takes on Nightside isn't nearly as twitchy and impersonal as one might imagine from vague capsule descriptions. "Queen Ann" is positively languid and relaxed. Keyboards, strings, and electronic percussion float by as if transported on a lazy river. A bass synth bounces all over, creating an additional, somewhat surprising element. The warmth of the mallet percussion used on "The Mall" is another welcome dimension, making way for dramatic string arrangements and a playful sense of atonality reminiscent of Frank Zappa's more lush instrumental compositions. Cissell – who plays all instruments on Nightside – really stacks up the layers on this particular song, as well as on the dreamy "Really Really Real", but it's always in a way that seems more exhilarating than forbidding. It's complex yet friendly.

On the album closer, "Karen Black's Blonde Wig", Cissell creates something of a multifaceted film score segment – with the song's title an apparent tribute to the legendary actress – as dramatic strings mesh with a harsh synthesizer patch. It's a bit of a mash-up of film composer styles; Bernard Hermann meeting up with Giorgio Moroder's techno-friendly score for Midnight Express. Luke Cissell is a composer and musician who devours a variety of musical genres with great abandon. Applying them all to one collection of songs can be a tough trick to pull off, but with his particular skill set and meticulous ear for detail, he's hit a home run with Nightside.

8
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

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.