Music

Michael Nau: Some Twist

The man behind Page France and Cotton Jones takes a somnambulant approach to his latest collection of sleepy, understated bedroom pop. *Warning: do not listen to while operating heavy machinery.


Michael Nau

Some Twist

Label: Suicide Squeeze
US Release Date: 2017-06-16
UK Release Date: 2017-06-16
Amazon
iTunes

For the second album released under his own name, Michael Nau distils some of the best elements of his works with Page France and Cotton Jones into a warmly organic mixture of low-key, sleepily pastoral chamber pop. Nothing here is rushed, instead unfolding like a long, lazy summer afternoon spent in the season’s warm embrace, nestled in the shadow of an ancient tree watching the clouds gently make their way across the pure blue sky. In fact, much of the album feels as though it were unfurling itself in slow motion, completely and utterly unconcerned with the passage of time; it’s as though each track were designed to simply float by, barely registering as anything more than merely pleasant from an aesthetic standpoint.

Lacking any truly memorable melodies or hooks, Some Twist is instead the aural equivalent of those days spent idly, albeit enjoyably, watching life pass you by. “Wonder", at times dipping into late-period Harry Nilsson territory (think nearly anything off Knnillssonn, one of the closest approximations of what Nau seems to be attempting here), finds Nau quietly crooning atop brushed snare, measured piano and delicate guitar, his voice rising and falling like the gentlest of waves lapping the shore. Because of this, it takes multiple listens for the whole of Some Twist to really sink in. Even then, it proves itself to be little more than an enjoyable and relaxing set of a dozen songs that rarely stray from an established template in terms of tempo, structure, and instrumentation.

On “How You’re So For Real", Nau lets his voice trail off in wordlessly soulful passages that wind in and out of the somnambulant groove and hazy instrumentation. It’s hard to find fault in anything Nau has on offer here, but it lacks any type of instantly recognizable imprint or entry point to Nau’s creative world and instead sounds like any number of after-hours, chilled-out indie rock of the vaguely nostalgic variety. The only real outliers are “Scumways", with its buzzy synths tacked onto the existing sonic template for yet another pleasant, if ineffectual bit of low-key indie pop, and “Scatter” with its percolating electronic groove and woozy keyboards.

Elsewhere, “Waiting, Too” barely registers, remaining so laidback that it threatens to fall asleep on itself before reaching its brief 3:02 conclusion. But given the tone of the rest of the album, this seems to be the point of Some Twist, the music crawling by at a snail’s pace albeit abetted by a number of interesting instrumental punctuations and ideas that occasionally register as they crop up in and around Nau’s narcoleptic vocals. Even album-highlight “The Load” eases its way into things, augmenting the usual approach with some welcome horns and even a somewhat free saxophone solo near track’s end. Coming as late as it does on the album, it’s only barely enough to stir the listen from the slumber induced by the preceding tracks.

So what to make of an album of such understated aims at grandiosity? Taken as a whole, Some Twist passes in a slow blur, the music as obscured as the cover image. And though there are no shortage of ideas -- many of them quite brilliant, particularly the tonal shift of “Oh, You Wanna Bet?” easily one of the most compelling tracks the album has to offer -- however they are rarely deployed in a manner that draws the listener’s attention for more than a few fleeting moments at a stretch. There’s nothing wrong with Some Twist; to be sure, it’s a perfectly fine blend of hazy pop, late-night listening, and warm sonic textures, there’s just little in the way of true differentiation between tracks. But why complain? Michael Nau has been and remains a fine pop tunesmith capable of ambitiously understated arrangements (check out the nifty chord changes and instrumentation of closing track “Light That Ever”). Here, despite the gorgeous instrumentation and rich analog-sounding production, he more often than not simply gets a little too sleepy for his own good.

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