Rachel Adams croons with her heart on her sleeve in “Wings and Horns,” but as captivating as her performance is in this simple ballad, it doesn’t overshadow the play of her bandmates in Athens’ own Nocturnal Blonde amidst this profoundly poetic cornerstone of their debut album, Still Gushing. Together, and with the influence of the one and only Michael Stipe, they bring the emotionally-charged songwriting of Richie and Dave Williams to life in twelve of the most inspirational and evocative songs of the summer in this stately LP, and although they face some stiff competition both in and outside of their legendary scene this August, theirs is a virgin full-length that I would place among the most powerful of any to see widespread release in the last two years. Still Gushing doesn’t aestheticize its centerpiece narrative – opioid dependence – as many other records would, but instead seeks to teach us something about the nature of addiction and, furthermore, the very concept of humanity itself.
You can tell that “Smart Heart,” the title track, “Oh, D,” “Flesh” and “Ricochet” are incredibly personal compositions for Nocturnal Blonde, and while most of the emotion that we hear in these songs originates in the stellar arrangement of the instrumentation, it’s typically Rachel Adams’ soft serenade that creates the most tension, and subsequently, catharsis in the music. Her method of execution is surgically precise, but never robotic – a balance that’s difficult for even the most talented of vocalists to strike. Other than the exquisite string melodies that shadow her every word in “Scripted” and the overdriven “This House,” she demands all of our attention with little more than her supple singing in this album.
This mix is very well-detailed, to such a degree that I would even say “All Those Angels,” “Drained” and “Blown Away” actually sound like measured live performances that were recorded in some quaint, intimate Athens venue instead of within the four walls of a professional studio somewhere. A lot of time and attention was put into making every one of these tracks sting with the same level of physicality that one would expect to hear in a stage setting, and while Nocturnal Blonde have no plans to become a touring act as of now, they demonstrate a searing dexterity in these songs that nevertheless makes me wonder how brilliant they would sound in person.
Engaging, provocative and stunningly embracive in every way that counts, Still Gushing is a beautiful, menacingly emotional listening experience that, though not for the faint of heart, is one that I would recommend to anyone who has ever been touched by the perils of addiction. While Nocturnal Blonde aren’t a household name, they sound like legitimate icons in this collection of brutally honest ballads, and if their first official studio album finds an audience beyond the college radio circuit this season, there’s not a doubt in my mind that they could receive a lot of much-deserved mainstream exposure this coming autumn. They’re by far the most talented group of musicians I’ve listened to this month, and in Still Gushing, they share a glimpse into a devastatingly dark subject that people need to be talking about more than they already have been this year.
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