The last time listeners heard from the band Nathan Oliver was 2009’s Cloud Animals. In the meantime, the creative force behind the band, songwriter/vocalist/musician Nathan White, has addressed himself to other projects that have earned him considerable critical acclaim and a loyal following that grows with each additional release. This is songwriting that clearly works within a tradition, classic alternative rock, while still boasting a notable about of individuality and originality that takes the poses of that time-tested form and filters them through White’s life experiences and songwriting goals. The result is as unique as the best iconic alt rock and has a thoroughly modern edge that chases any hint of the retro far away. He’s recruited some top notch players to help him realize that and Head in the Sand benefits enormously from the sympathetic artistic chemistry they share with one another.
The EP gets off to an aggressive start with the song “Marbles”. It’s impressive that, after such a long lay off for the band name, White’s songwriting for their return comes out swinging with a blast of ballsy and slightly deranged punk rock. His vocal is just raucous enough to make it fly. He takes a much different turn with the EP’s second track “Clean Sheets” and his pain is palpable thanks both to the lyric and his vocal phrasing. This is, arguably, the most outright commercial moment on Head in the Sand. Labeling it as such doesn’t mean it fails to fit in with the EP’s overall musical scheme; Nathan White, as a songwriter, isn’t one to veer to far into the mainstream or pander to his target audience. The guitars on this song, as well, couldn’t be any different than what he heard in the opener. The uncluttered and straight-ahead strum of the six string work on this track has beautiful simplicity – it’s the sort of writing that’s born out of a refined artistic sensibility shaped by long service in the art of songwriting.
One of the most plaintively emotional moments on Head in the Sand comes with the song “Little Belle”. This isn’t a commercially minded moment like the earlier “Clean Sheets” – instead, it has an almost folk song vibe and White follows the same tack with his vocal. There’s an achingly sincere quality in this performance that dovetails nicely with his modern sonic inclinations. The second to last track on Head in the Sand, “Sing Blue Silver”, has a similar feel accentuated by its big chords and tone setting drumming. The final curtain for Head in the Sand comes with the song “Kim Mi Young” and it’s a track that, frankly, requires multiple listens before fully comprehending its effect. Nathan White has elaborated on the alternative rock tradition with a broad-based array of influences, but the EP’s final track finds him threading those various strands together in dramatic and unique ways. There’s no question that, if White resolves on firming up the band’s lineup while also continuing to tour and record, Nathan Oliver is back and announcing themselves as a name to be reckoned with on the indie scene.