12 October 2018 (released)
06 October 2018
There is tremendous value to giving albums repeated listens. Not just the ones you know enamoured with but records that are out of your wheelhouse as well. Upon the first listen, your brain lunges for stereotypes. Patterns that conform to its approved ideals of style, tempo, and tone. “Is this the kind of music that I like?”, “Does this music define who I am?” Even in seeking progressive or groundbreaking music, we seek common influential identifiers. “These guys mixed 90s G-Funk with Jethro Tull and Wagner. Whoa!!!” Even when it's new, we have to verify that it came from our approved backgrounds, lest we get roped in by something wildly out of our character. This can preclude us from taking in albums that have something valid to say but don't fit into our personal ruts of genre.
On first listen, Nocturnal Animals latest EP Writing On the Walls is a polished offering of pop-punk/alt-rock. A tight band, playing to tried and true arrangements, with slick 'punch out of your speakers' engineering and production. An instantly identifiable formula which tells fans of the genre that they've come to the right place and unfortunately, turns detractors away within the first few bars. Admittedly, once you get past the first couple tracks of four-chord fodder, the band opens up stylistically. However, in this nano-second attention span, stream to your heart's content era, if you don't like what you hear in the first 10 seconds, you move on.
Here's what sticks out on repeat listens:
The bouncy shuffle of the opener 'Fake Love' is catchy to be sure but the lyrics are really 'au courant', outlining the trappings of our bizarrely mutated, technologically-integrated version of modern love. The feigned pleasantries, the insane games and protocols, and the utter lack of commitment and sincerity. Not to mention Mason Jones' falsetto wail gives that Darkness singer a run for his money and Dawson Trucker's snaky, fuzzed-out bass bridge slays (though it could have popped out of the mix a little more).
The half-time breakdown on 'Dirty Eyes' transforms a slick minor ditty into a banger. A lofty guitar line over the band punching out the staccato groove. 'Fever Dream' demonstrates their most evolved songwriting with Jones harmonizing with big open, tremolo guitar chords. The closer 'The Haunting' sees them transitioning between several disparate rhythms and moods with a seamless control.
Writing On the Walls will reaffirm that good music transcends genre. Give it a second, third and fourth spin and new things will show themselves to you. For die-hard fans of this style, the singles 'Margo' and 'Shiver' will be your bread and butter but for the rest, they are the weakest links of the album. The band is at its best when it stretches out and finds new ground.