With a hesitant swing, “Magic,” the fifth and final song that we encounter on Andrew Nolte’s new EP Climbing Uphill, comes staggering out of our speakers with a glowing guitar melody that will struggle to maintain its strength amidst the powerful vocal emissions soon to flank it. Alongside the other four songs in this tracklist, “Magic” and the whole of Climbing Uphill have been scoring huge points with critics this September because of the highbrow harmonies they contain, and moreover, the chills that they provoke upon each and every spin they’re afforded. Andrew Nolte has turned in some brilliant work before, but this ultra-accessible disc just might be his best recording thus far.
Though all five of the tracks on Climbing Uphill qualify as ballads (in somewhat varying capacities), this EP doesn’t have an overly emotional feel to it – contrarily, it’s one of the heavier records of its kind to debut this season. Although built on the foundation of a minimalist melody, “Speak My Heart” is entirely steeped in a muscularity that is hardly commonplace in alternative music anymore. The same can be said for the title track and “My Avatar,” both of which shake listeners to the very core without having to pile on a bunch of unnecessary fluff.
The guitar tones are the undisputed star of the title track, “I Need You” and “My Avatar,” and you could definitely make the argument that the string play on this EP is even more enchanting than it was in Nolte’s rookie album, last year’s Tied to a String. He’s come a long way as a soloist in the last twelve months, and while his vocal remains the central linchpin in the bulk of his work, it’s hard to deny just how profoundly evocative the instrumental side of Climbing Uphill is, even at its most simple and unfanciful in design.
Andrew Nolte’s beatific voice turns out to be a real scene-stealer in “Speak My Heart” and “Magic,” and I could especially feel the emotion in his serenade in the latter track in particular. He’s invested in every word that he’s singing in both of these songs, and though I fell in love with his music because of his crooning, what he’s doing with it here is leaps and bounds ahead of anything he shared with us at the start of his career. Nolte has become a well-rounded singer/songwriter in every sense of the term, and he proves just how skilled he is in bold compositions like these.
There aren’t many records that are as warm and thoughtful in spirit as Andrew Nolte’s Climbing Uphill is, and if you’ve been in the mood for something in indie rock that is as relatable when you’re feeling down as it is when you’re riding higher than ever before, its five songs simply can’t be trumped this September. I’m not the only critic who has been singing its praises, and once you give its tracklist a listen, I think you’re going to understand what all of the buzz has been about.