Bristol-based outfit The Nightjar was originally conceived as a close-harmony vocal trio, but has become a four-piece gradually adding seriously spectral, exceedingly minimal (as opposed to minimalist) textures of guitars and bass and drums (and an uncredited piano) to the plaintive, unbelievably lonesome single or combined vocals. Now with the permanent addition of Jez Anderson on electric guitar, Mo Kirby, Sarah Ricketts and Pete Thomas present what might best be described as "lo-fi post-folk" that draws its inspiration from such artists as Grouper and Colleen - although I can't resist making a comparison with the chilled-out soundscape of fellow-Bristolians Portishead. The result is a series of intense, dream-like and moodily ethereal songs of hope, loss and disaster, inhabiting a sound-world all their own which, though initially a trifle forbidding perhaps, then proves addictive once you've entered it. Assuredly reflecting the recording location - a farmhouse in rural Portugal - there's a tellingly remote atmosphere and pure, honest essence to the music on this, The Nightjar's debut full-length CD (two of its songs - Wardrobe and All Objects Will Cease - have already been outed as singles, and I'm told the band had also released an earlier EP back in 2015). The band themselves refer to their album as "songs for the end of time", a kind of homage to the philosophy of the French composer Messiaen, whose landmark 1941 chamber work Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps is one of the 20th century's true masterworks; this is especially marked in The Nightjar's en-passant conjuring of the ambience of the Quartet's languorous fifth movement, the feeling of time standing still (almost)) whilst all around in the world is shifting, transforming, transient and impermanent. It's true that this kind of momentum pervades all of The Nightjar's album, with little or no variation in tempo between tracks - and yet this doesn't make the CD a monotonous or boring experience, far from it in fact as it casts quite a spell. OK, so maybe the first track (All Objects Will Cease) takes a bit of getting into, its esoteric philosophical content more than a little oblique maybe, but by the time we reach the breathy claustrophobic introspection of The Birds Were Made To Sing For Us (a slightly delusional examination of the changing nature of a relationship) it's obvious that something magic is at work on your senses. A timeless feel of courtly English pastoral pervades Wardrobe, with its curiously potent sense of loss and liberation, while Cockleshell's restless clanging guitar figure mirrors the lyric's magnetic pull to a nomadic existence. The Lead And Line pits a boxy high-register vocal part against an echoey earthbound piano and booming bass notes, perhaps to depict the need for careful navigation when contemplating uncharted territories.
Although seven of the tracks are original compositions by band members, arguably the most impressive is The Nightjar's brooding, atmospheric take on the traditional Prickle-eye Bush ballad, here titled Hangman, with Mo's stunning, bluesy yet understated vocal set within an inexorable funereal rhythm and strange guitar embellishments. The ballad-like Black Waters is a natural follow-on from Hangman, and features a clangorous antique piano and sinister fuzz undertones to denote the encroachment of an undesirable landscape or environmental change, whereas the sequence then draws back into deep tradition for a rendition of the ancient Armenian folksong Dle Yaman, with Mo's impassioned keening for the loss of a loved one set to a restless, exposed keyboard arpeggio. Final track In The Sky Or In The Ground returns us to the intimate world of close harmonies, bringing the disc full circle perhaps in its less elusive expression of the power of encouragement for our endeavours.
The Nightjar's Objects is another of those albums that despite its directness and sparseness of expression reveals its charms only gradually, and yet is all the more powerful and mesmerising for it.
|Kev Minney: Stories Of The Sky||Kim Lowings And The Greenwood: Wild & Wicked Youth|
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