Music

Nathan: Key Principles

Aarik Danielsen

At times, Nathan’s songs sound earthy and desperate, at others, fanciful and brimming with a buoyant optimism.


Nathan

Key Principles

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2007-03-20
UK Release Date: 2007-04-01
Amazon
iTunes

Having earned critical accolades and multiple awards in its native Canada, Nathan (a four-piece band, not a male solo performer) is heralded as being among the cream of that country’s crop of contemporary folk artists. With its roots in the soil of traditional folk, and its branches extended toward '60s guitar jangle, shimmering pop/rock and even jazz idioms, Key Principles, the group’s third offering, is a perpetually spirited, often tender album with the potential to push the band’s music beyond regional borders and in the direction of widespread success.

With the ability to gravitate toward a range of sounds, Nathan relies on tightly coiled musical threads to keep its work consistent. The most central and compelling feature of the group’s sound comes in the energy derived from the vocal interplay between principal songwriter Keri Latimer and multi-instrumentalist Shelley Marshall. Stylistically, both singers are reminiscent of the tone and quality realized by Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash or the Dupree sisters of Eisley. Achieving a near familial connection, their often overlapping vocals result in harmonies which are alternately celestial and sprightly. Devin Latimer and Damon Mitchell comprise the group’s rhythm section and give the dual vocalists the necessary room to explore such a variety of musical textures and techniques.

The members of Nathan certainly excel within the constructs of straightforward folk/pop blends whether relaxed ("Ordinary Day", "Malorie", or a bit more insistent,"Let Them Look"). However, slight deviations from these structures tend to lead to wonderful possibilities, including gems like "Daffodils", a track which begins a simple pop song and ends a spinning, twirling crescendo of vocals, horns and handclaps. Songs like "You Win" and "The Boulevard Back Then" present a slightly modern take on way back sounds, using elements found in jazz and country standards that certainly influenced the group. Possibly the most apt description of the band’s music and the worldview it expresses comes in the form of a lyric included on the track "Key Principles of Success": Latimer writes, "Lift me out of this dustbowl and hand me a champagne." At times, Nathan’s songs sound earthy and desperate, at others, fanciful and brimming with a buoyant optimism.

The songs on Key Principles are beautiful and challenging, not simply because of the band’s aptitude for blending together traditional and contemporary musical languages. The themes discussed and images conveyed manage to be both universal and specific in application; the sentiments expressed and the narrators expressing them could reside halfway around the world, or in the house next door. On a grand scale, people identify with coming-of-age accounts of youthful indiscretion and the gradual passing of innocence. When expressed through a Latimer lyric: "Campfire fueled by some old fence and skies like planetariums / And I’m too shy to kiss your neck, so I kick dirt at Curtis" (from "John Paul's Deliveries"), wistful feelings of nostalgia gain shape and form, take on flesh and blood. Listeners can understand why small town kids would beg each other to "take me away where the lights start fading and darkness erases potential I've wasted," as the narrator of "Trans Am" does. When such a desire is coupled with lyrics that discuss the motivation for flight, such as being late for work or an important payment, the yearning becomes increasingly more relatable.

In eras past where oral tradition was the primary means of storytelling, tales would often evolve as they were passed down from generation to generation, elements and details added and altered to preserve the sanctity of the message and ensure their appeal to a fresh audience. Perhaps a similar turn of events is occurring in the folk/Americana tradition (the most closely related musical cousin to the written/oral narrative) with new blood like Nathan and its label mates, Old Crow Medicine Show (though OCMS is more steeped in traditional songs than Nathan). These acts are attempting to take the doctrines of songwriters and artists who came before them and alter the method of communication ever so slightly, translating them for a generation seeking authenticity from their art. Key Principles suggests the members of Nathan have both the talent and the vision to assume a leadership role in this effort.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

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