Self-proclaimed “sighborg” Dave Hartley might fade into the wash in the War on Drugs, but on the bassist/multi-instrumentalist’s solo side project, his words cut front and center. The followup to 2010’s debut LP Forget the Mantra refines Nightlands’ exploratory strands of psych-pop, but falls somewhat short of its own pretension of sci-fi awe.
Oak Island is a strange candidate for a midwinter release. Its breezy psychedelia and untempered nostalgia evoke imagery of swing sets in late summer, of green leaves and teen romances. “I’d like to invite you for just a little while / To a place I used to go when I was only 17,” echoes Hartley in the album’s first moments. Sure enough, the record flows as an easy retrospective on the blush of adolescence, pausing to combine memories of home with meditations on mortality. “This breath could be our last,” Hartley sings on “You’re My Baby”, while “So It Goes” cites the oft-tattooed Vonnegut aphorism in both title and refrain. But Nightlands flushes out any trace of bleakness with full instrumentation and richly layered vocals, attesting that the fear of dying might well be defeated through insistent, celebratory memory.
As Hartley’s production lends so much emphasis to his lyrics, it’s difficult not to wonder at the vacancy of lines like ”if it’s never been turned off, can it be turned on?” Still, Hartley again proves his skill as a pop songwriter with cheery, floral arrangements on easily swallowed tracks like “So Far So Long” and “Nico”. The Animal Collective mimicry of Forget the Mantra fades here as Hartley crafts a tone that’s less frantic and more harmonious.
Oak Island might not bloom at the supposed crossroads of art and science (fiction), but it’s a pleasant enough take on the reconciliation of nostalgia with the desire for adult life.
Essential Tracks: “So Far So Long”