The weighty words that Rachel Adams sings in “Flesh,” one of the dozen songs that comprise Nocturnal Blonde’s new LP Still Gushing, pour out of our speakers smoothly, but still manage to drag us asunder in with their introspective prose just the same. An exotic lead guitar slashes through the pristine melodies and opens the floodgates on an insular, pressurizing outro that will take us directly into “Oh, D” and eventually the title track of this magnificent debut album, and though the four-minute gem “Flesh” is only a sample of what Still Gushing is all about, the vulnerability that it showcases is like no other that I’ve heard in an alternative folk-rock record this summer.
Ominous percussion gives “Scripted,” “Almost an Angel” and the vocal-centric “Smart Heart” a lot of additional emotionality that wouldn’t have been present in the music otherwise, while bold crooning from Adams dominates in “This House,” “Blown Away” and “Ricochet,” but none of this content seems thrown-together or unbalanced as a complete piece at all. Contrarily, there are some moments (like in “All Those Angels” and the title track, for example) where Still Gushing feels like a stripped-down indie rock opera. The no-frills aesthetic of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe (who helped out with the songwriting process here) is a prominent feature in this album, but it’s countered with a slight bombast that makes every stitch of audio feel and sound larger than life.
Lyrically speaking, “Wings and Horns,” “Ricochet,” “Drained” and “Smart Heart” are some of the most disturbingly tangible, and enormously involved, compositions that I’ve listened to in 2019. Richie Williams originally brought this unit together to raise some awareness about America’s increasing opioid problem, but I don’t think that the music here is relatable to those affected by addiction exclusively. These tracks are multi-interpretive, and more impressively, joined together by the passionate pen of Williams and his brother Dave, who know the realities of near-fatal drug-dependency all too well.
“Wings and Horns” is quite reminiscent of something that Mazzy Star would have recorded in their prime, but it doesn’t qualify as a throwback to the sound of a bygone era in the history of alternative rock in the slightest. At no point in this tracklist do Nocturnal Blonde attempt to recycle something that we’ve already heard before; they’ve got their own truth to lay out on the table before us here, and their humble, endearing poeticisms verify their authenticity as a group of musicians in pursuit of a singular undertaking.
If you haven’t already heard their first release, the Smart Heart EP, Nocturnal Blonde’s Still Gushing is an even more important acquisition this month. All at once it embodies both the spirit of traditional indie rock and progressive-minded pop songwriting that is, in a word, opulent (and that’s putting it very mildly). Aside from Nicholas Altobelli’s Vertigo and Dracula’s Dorys & Eli, I think that it represents the future of alternative folk music better than any other record released in the last eight months has. Nocturnal Blonde are a diamond in the rough, and if this is but a taste of what’s to come next, then I cannot wait to hear more.