Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Noise Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
NightlandsOak Island[Secretly Canadian; 2013]By Joshua Pickard; January 25, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGDavid Hartley knows how to put a high-gloss shine on his music. Oak Island, his debut album as Nightlands, revels in the absolute pop veneer that comes from a lifetime obsession with '60s and '70s AM classics, as well as the compressed, synth pop of the '80s. His chrome-plated melodies seem to effortlessly slide from his mouth, each note perfectly aligned with the next, just waiting for its time to slip out.
Dave Hartley begins his second album as Nightlands simply enough: "I'd like to invite you/ For just for a little while/ To a place I used to go/ When I was only 17. " "Time and Place" is an offer of comfort and warm nostalgia, almost impossible to be read multiple ways. Yet the manner in which it's actually sung raises a question that goes to the core of songwriting: who exactly is "I" here? Hartley's obviously the guy standing in front of a microphone, but he's harmonized at least four layers deep, airbrushing any sort of human impurity that defines "personal" expression.
While genetic engineering can be loads of fun, Dave Hartley has decided instead to channel the notions of the family profession into aural pleasures. As Nightlands, he conjures a sound that indeed has something of a scientific undertone. Tracks like “Time & Place” and “So Far So Long” are ethereal, and full of longing, but rather than emotional urgency, there’s a curious calm about the proceedings—as if to say, I long for you, but I’ll also be doing just fine without.
As Nightlands, Dave Hartley makes what might be the definition of bedroom music. Back in 2010, he took time off from his other projects, most notably as regular bass player for the War on Drugs, to record Forget the Mantra, an album based on song fragments he heard in his sleep (hence the Nightlands moniker). Reflecting its origins, Forget the Mantra was a dreamy, occasionally positively narcoleptic album.
"I'd like to invite you for just a little while/To a place I used to go when I was only 17," Dave Hartley sings near the beginning of his second Nightlands album, and that sense of nostalgia pervades the rest of Oak Island. Building on the epic yet intimate feel of his debut, Forget the Mantra, Hartley's project recalls other acts who wrap a fragile, wonderstruck voice in a cocoon of immense sounds, but Nightlands has a unique approach within that realm. Hartley applies as much science to his music as he can, resulting in dreamy, literally experimental pop.
Nightlands, aka Philadelphia's Dave Hartley, is known for his healthy, mathy formula of instrumental layering and ambiance. His debut release in 2010, the first away from his regular gig as bassist for the band The War On Drugs, was an experiment in dreamy synth-music and psych-pop – and an effective one at that. His sophomore release, Oak Island, just out on Secretly Canadian, is a logical extension of that debut's theme and style, but is better crafted – or perhaps just better served - and stands as a good example of how subtlety can sneak up on a person and pack a desolate punch.
The War on Drugs are primarily Philadelphia songwriter Adam Granduciel's project, but they've become better known lately for introducing the world to their former guitarist, Kurt Vile. Lesser-known bassist Dave Hartley has also set out on a solo(ish) project, Nightlands. But those expecting the rootsy Tom Pettyisms of Vile and Granduciel won't find them on this sophomore album, which takes its cues from 70s soft rock bands like Seals & Croft and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Dave Hartley, aka the one-man band that is Nightlands, knows how to set a scene. The opening track on his second album pulls you in beautifully with an eerie synth hush before his vocals, subtly electronically processed to add that otherworldly feel, intone “I’d like to invite you, for just a little while, to a place I used to go, when I was only 17, back to the place that I once knew”. As opening tracks to an album go, they don’t get much more welcoming than that.
Every so often, the War On Drugs demonstrate their gauzier side, and based upon Oak Island, it would appear that the main ringleader behind those moments is their bassist, Dave Hartley. His solo project, Nightlands, lives for such moments, spinning a dreamy web on album number two. The record has more in common with Animal Collective than Hartley's usual group, or more accurately, with Panda Bear's contributions.
Dave Hartley may be better known in his role as the bassist for The War on Drugs, but Nightlands is his baby. It's a meticulously-rendered solo project; his 2010 debut, Forget the Mantra, experimented with a mix of found audio and home recordings to create its unique musical patchwork. On Oak Island, Hartley moves away from sonic collage and into Eno-esque studio exploration.
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.
Bassist turned basketball columnist Dave Hartley has a third great passion: science fiction. It’s this that informs his solo output as Nightlands, Hartley’s spacey, synth-stacked side-project away from regular band The War On Drugs. Oak Island is as flushed with forward momentum as Slave Ambient, albeit more spaceship than road trip. Hartley is pictured on the cover as an over-polished living bust: bedaubed with lustrous silver spraypaint, a man in an android’s skin.
“Are you always fucked up at the end of the day?” asks Dave Hartley on Oak Island, his second album under the mysterious yet appropriate name Nightlands. As the bassist for haze-rock band War On Drugs, he often serves as the steady, unwavering guiding light for the group’s unwieldy combination of Tom Petty, electro-drone and rustic twang, but under the Nightlands banner, Hartley is free to shimmer, shine and shake like a disco ball rolling down the stairs. While his role as a bassist is often to provide stability, Nightlands is a project that’s constantly looking for things to destabilize: Song structures get abandoned, instruments get transformed, standards of taste get overthrown, your sense of time and place get messed with.