Nightlands - Oak Island

by Steve Reynolds Rating:6 Release Date:2013-01-22

Dave Hartley's secondment from his day job with War on Drugs restarts with his solo project Nightlands. He released his debut Forget the Mantra, which focussed on soft slabs of electronica and mellifluous, honey-dripping arrangements in 2010 and, following on from a two-and-a-half year hiatus, he is back with Oak Island.

Perhaps the cover of the album gives the game away as to what place Hartley is at cerebrally. Resplendent in silver, resembling a more statuesque Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz against a background of leafy woods, it could be read as the awakening of a man from a slumber ready to make a mark as an individual, showing the world he is ready to fight for his own musical cause and not just be another number in a band.

Hartley has a very sombre, almost withered spoken-word vocal delivery but he makes the most of his limitations on the church-like assemblage of 'So Far So long'. Most of 'Nightlands' is sedate but comes with a roomy sound and box-of-tricks production. Check out also the shuffling beats and eclectic fusion of brass and tempered guitar of 'You're My Baby', on which Hartley whispers, "We'd better run to catch the sun, it's setting fast, this breath could be our last", all splashing across a kaleidoscopic reprise.

If you're sat waiting to have your ears blown away, be aware that this album isn't gonna do it for you. If, however, you're expecting charming and enchanting pulses of warm sounds straight from Hartley's caring heart then yes, you're in the right place. 'Nico' is the major, upbeat piece of the album, blending a thickly strummed acoustic guitar against Hartley's helium delivery. At a flick of a switch, this could quite easily be one of The Flaming Lips' trippy psychedelic jams or even Animal Collective at their brain-addled best. 'So It Goes', meanwhile, comes with a motorik beat, creating an uneasy and fidgeted listen. The amount of polish and sheen on Oak Island is really noticeable with all the songs having a glistening feel, screwed down to the last note, which begs the question - could this be replicated live?

If anything detracts from this album, it's a lack of impetus and oomph at times, reflected on 'Born to Love', which feels slightly underwhelming and rather boring, to be blunt. Hartley is apparently in his 50s and it's rather impressive that he wants to continue his own musical output, honing his skills and applying all his previous experience in experimental sounds. However, his songs just don't hit home enough to really make Oak Island as successful as it should be.

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