Nick Heyward: Woodland Echoes

Photo: Sara Johnson

Indie pop legend Nick Heyward drops his first album in 18 years, and it's a timeless, infectious gem.

Woodland Echoes
Nick Heyward

Gladsome Hawk

3 Nov 2017

In our currently turbulent world, it's been standard practice for "important" works of art – whether it's books, films, music – to be labeled as "for our times". I've been guilty of this on more than one occasion this year, referring to new releases by Chicano Batman, Father John Misty and Gary Numan as tonics for life in 2017. The same can be said for Woodland Echoes, the latest album from British singer/songwriter Nick Heyward, but not because it makes pointed sociopolitical statements: rather, his musical escapism transcends global chaos and allows the listener to simply breathe deeply and listen.

As a founding member of the popular - but short-lived - '80s UK indie pop group Haircut 100, Heyward was responsible for such catchy singles as "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)" and "Love Plus One" (with the video for the latter in heavy rotation on MTV circa 1982). He left the band after their first album, Pelican West, and has been churning out solo albums ever since, albeit at a relatively leisurely clip. In fact, Woodland Echoes is Heyward's first solo album in 18 years, not to mention one of the more pleasant musical surprises of 2017.

This particular pace is not really shocking; listening to Woodland Echoes, you get the sense of an artist who is unconcerned with deadlines and only wants to make smart, breezy pop music without a lot of fuss. His boyish looks are largely intact – with his thick, trendy glasses and casual fashion sense, he looks like that cool college professor all the students want to hang out with – and he seems to be at peace with his status as a 50-something indie pop legend whose periodic albums get high grades with the critics.

The focus with Woodland Echoes is on compositions that reflect Heyward's love for nature and the outdoors – as well as love itself. With the ticking of a clock serving as a metronome, opening track "Love Is the Key by the Sea" (reminiscent of low-key Beck albums like Sea Change and Morning Phase) sets the scene for the entire album with acoustic guitars and lush harmonies celebrating the simple life. "Come down /Breathe into the sun / Chill out / You and me are one," he sings. "Love is an open book." The next song, "Mountaintop", is even more loose and laid-back, with an infectious country vibe (complete with acoustic guitars and a jew's harp, of all things) complementing the irresistible Paul McCartney-meets-Neil Finn pop sheen. It's pop music, but devoid of any artificial gloss or pretension.

"The Stars" occasionally ducks into Heyward's '80s heyday with little sonic treats like mild synth stabs and a light dance feel adding to the bright melodicism. Likewise, "Who?" is a delicious, horn-spiked jazzy number that sounds like classic British pop filtered through Cole Porter. These anomalies never distract from the album's mission - instead, they give it an additional layer to appreciate and absorb.

Things occasionally get a little heavier on Woodland Echoes, but never distractingly so. Heyward's brief time signed to Creation Records probably allowed a little bit of a Britpop influence to creep into his system, and songs like "Perfect Sunday Sun" and "Baby Blue Sky" are good examples of this, with washes of overlapping electric guitars meshing with lazy, tuneful psychedelia. "Forest of Love" also gives off a trippy, late '60s feel, but never in a way that feels overstuffed. With its rich harmonies, baroque tilt, and measured instrumentation, it sounds like Andy Partridge channeling the Beatles.

With birdsong introducing "Beautiful Morning", Heyward takes a successful stab at combining downbeat acoustic balladry with simple, positive wordplay that extols the healing power of nature. "When the morning dew is here," Heyward sings, "And the afternoon is clear / When the flowers heal the day / And the blackbird sings my way."

As the sounds of a thunderstorm introduce the song "New Beginning" (this album is heavy on the nature effects), rich, warm acoustic guitar follows, and instead of lyrics, heavenly "oohs" are all the vocals the song requires. Heyward is a smart lyricist, but this song is proof of the power of atmosphere. Listening to the track on a pair of headphones with the world's distractions (temporarily) at bay is a great way to experience the sensation that Woodland Echoes conveys, and perhaps its ultimate goal: to transport the listener to a better world, and a more beautiful and hopeful one. Nick Heyward knows the way. He'll take you there.





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

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.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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