Nouns – Still (Review)

Nouns - Still ArtworkSometimes I scroll through Twitter and I find a link to the Bandcamp page of an artist I’ve never listened to before. When I see someone praise a record I feel obliged to check it out, if only to satisfy my own curiosity, which was the case here. I’m glad I did, because Still is an incredible release, and I figured I’d write something about it using more than 140 characters. The record is out now, and you can buy or stream it here.

When a release begins with a line as hard-hitting as ‘I was raped at fourteen’ you can probably assume that you’re in for an emotional listen, which Still definitely is, as opener Fourteen builds from a delicate haunting intro and piercing guitars into a story of pain and the strength it inspires. It serves as an introduction not just to the record but to Nouns, and to their intelligence when it comes to creating a thought-provoking and sobering narrative. The eleven tracks that follow address a number of themes and topics, all of which are conveyed through thoughtful lyrics and musicianship with an unerring awareness for the subject matter. Merge these high levels of emotion with punk instrumentals and varied vocals and you end up with a record that offers a hell of a lot, and always does so in its own unique way, telling it from a suitably bleak perspective. There’s a very raw feel to it all in that the lyrics are powerful and the production is low-fi without taking away from the experience. Amongst other factors it means there’s something incredibly genuine about Still which makes it all the more affecting. Songs are told from several slightly differing personas assigned by vocalist Hunter Mann, and it all serves as a commentary on life and its darkest moments (‘All my friends are taller than me / And everything I feel is low’). Nouns hold nothing back, and Still is frequently honest at every opportunity, with tracks like But I Can’t Stay Here openly discussing suicide whilst the sombre Closer covers a high school shooting. It doesn’t always make for an easy listen but at times there’s a comfort to be taken from Still’s unrestrained emotion that only exists in music of this nature. Nouns have a lot to say, and every word they put to record here matters an immense amount, and a lot of it points towards the same sort of message – ‘you are not alone’. Fourteen preaches it subliminally, but even when the record seems claustrophobic it’s inviting a listener in – and to turn away a record this important would be criminal. I’ve been listening to music that bums me out but also soothes me for, almost a decade now, and I still turn to it time after time even though I know how it’s going to make me feel. That’s the magic of it, and Still bristles with the cathartic need for a companion to share it’s own rallying self-depreciation with. Be that person; let’s all wallow in it together and potentially have a dance at the same time. It’d be a missed opportunity otherwise.

Musically, Still takes influence from numerous genres and throws them into the mix, and as a result it’s a record that constantly surprises across its forty-two minute length. Electric second track I Feel As Though I’ve Failed contains shades of Latterman whilst Little Slugger’s first minute or so is blissful indie, well complementing some of the records more positive lyrics (‘You may scrape your knees on the roof/ But once you see the view you’ll know the pain was worth it’) before Nouns launch into a dynamic final minute of sharp riffs and cascading drums. Variety is the order of the day, and the band hold nothing back when it comes to expressing themselves creatively, with tracks occasionally bursting into short sonic barrages of noise as they do on Soccer Ball, which writhes with a quirky sort of charm as melodic guitars underlie passionate vocals. Two of the four members of Nouns provide main vocals, and tracks like Fox Wound make good use of the widely differing styles of Mann and Elgin Venable, starting nasal and ending as a cathartic rock song with a more humbling delivery. Each member contributes instrumentally and in this area the record is equally adventurous, and as a whole there’s very little to fault as Still shifts between a number of emotions with the same energy and intensity regardless of the tone. It makes the record difficult to pin down, but that’s some of the beauty of it.

The second half of Still is much darker, as deeper vocals play a bigger part, most noticeably on the crawling Daydream which plays out almost through a tunnel, as distant vocals sit over fuzzy bass and haunting ambience. It’s followed by the lengthy I Still Want To Make You Proud, which is probably the records most memorable entry, coming in at just under nine minutes. By doing so it seems to exist as a number of songs with a singular painful narrative on a miscarriage. It builds slowly before bursting into life around the minute mark, only to drop off two minutes later to powerful drums and subtler vocals. At times it’s Deafheaven dense and at others it’s very minimalistic, highlighting some of the more emotional lyrics. It’s a song that makes you take a step back and really pay attention, forcing a reaction in a sense, and it’s a powerful epic about love, guilt and the consequences of both of these emotions. Sixth track Wreck is another highlight and personal favourite, addressing teenage insecurities in a highly relatable and blunt manner, making use of fast vocals and varied instrumentals before the line ‘I am such a fucking wreck’ rings out over hazy guitars.

There are mellower moments on Still, most noticeably on the first two minutes of Ghost Legs, which cruises along on catchy instrumentals and echoing vocals before an explosive final minute, but there are also tracks that opt for a much more consistently aggressive styling – Ski Mask in particular. The ninth track churns along in a more traditional punk manner, pairing bristling vocals with meaty riffs and unrelenting drumming. It offers a welcome change in tempo, and displays yet another side to Nouns, and another they pull off brilliantly. It’s easy to single out tracks on Still as I’ve been doing, but as a whole the record is a vast and complex tapestry which seems to constantly change shape and brings something new with each entry.

Still is an unusual record, and that’s where the majority of its appeal comes from. For me anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve heard a body of music that boasts as much creativity and emotion as this one does. Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but Nouns offer something different, and Still is a clever blend of ideas executed majestically. It makes for a record that differs from the norm and excels because of it, laying itself bare in a way that few artists allow themselves to. It’s a stark reminder of what it is to be alive whilst wholly embracing the things that make it difficult to do just that. To conclude, Nouns’ Still is one of 2014’s best releases to date, if not the best, and it’s more than deserving of your undivided attention. I suppose that’d be my 140 characters if I felt they could really do it justice.

Rating: 9.5/10
Listen to: I Feel As Though I’ve Failed / Wreck / I Still Want To Make You Proud

 

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