These days I’m trying to live like Balzac. Honoré de Balzac was a French writer famous for his irregular sleeping schedule- going to sleep at 7 pm, “like the chickens” to wake at 1 am, working through the night, give or take a nap, finally rejoining society at dawn to again sleep right after dinner. To be quite honest, this is very close to my sleeping schedule anyway, so this summer I have danced to this circadian rhythm. And though it’s done wonders for my writing productivity, I must admit- the dead of night grows lonely.
Tonight, (this morning), I needed company, so I called upon Nathan K‘s newest release, Methodist Girls, to join me in my nocturnal business. I listened to the album from beginning to end, and I would describe the experience thusly-
You’re driving home from another town after some affair that ran too late, possibly a Color Me Badd reunion show (definitely) and, as you pull into your town, your car dies. Something to do with the damn battery. Luckily, you have good ol’ Nathan K there with you, and you’ve been having a healthy conversational flow the entire ride. It’s too late, so, together, the two of you walk the chilled night streets of your city trying to get back.
On this walk, the conversation drifts. You carry on the topic that you were speaking on in the car, past relationships, which begins this album (Sloppy Love, Paulding Light). Some light fare, until things start getting a bit serious, (“I ask you if you knew the meaning of life, you quote some shit you read in class and it scared me to death, so I took your hand”) which, as most heart-to-hearts go, cues the confessional marrow-deep portion of the night.
The fragility of life, along with its irremovable questions, sets upon your discussion, as Temporary glides gracefully though, with simple, sturdy acoustic guitar flanked by ever-present violins. Smoke laments on aimlessness, fitting for the ambling walk, as slightly askew guitar and trembling shimmering strings only give you the sense of being lost at a steady pace, both dizzying and liberating.
Happier Things and Most Birthdays both pick up the album’s pace a bit, as you two pass through the downtown, clubs still raging, full of drunks still harnessing a regrettable amount of energy. The electronic beat of the former song is what drives it, but the synth raindrops on the very surface are indicative of a lively dream. As for the latter song, the groove is a solid one, laced smoothly with vocal harmonies.
However, now you guys are really lost. It shouldn’t be this dark. You swear it’s the right way, but the lack of streetlights feels lonely, as if you’re walking on the bottom of the planet. That’s when the crucial part of any heartfelt conversation appears- memories. These sweet and painful notes of nostalgia are what keep you warm in the uncertain darkness. My favorite track on the album, 1993, recalls the peace of youth, through blurry glass and scents of perfume and cigarettes that have survived the years hiding in the comfiest folds of your brain. With his lofty harmonies and sweetened melodies, this track is a bittersweet black tea with a good bit of honey to warm your guts. Now the dawn arrives, gray as hell, and even without a sun, life is returned to the world.
As I heard this track, the night finally vanished, and I started on some breakfast. Luckily, the sizzle of bacon met the sizzle of Family Photo, a highly upbeat number, despite its lonely lyrics. Of course, on your walk, this is where you finally find your place, it’s right where you left it, and, although spirits are high and you are both relieved, the conversation had opened a wound in you, a saccharine spot that you don’t want to stitch up. So, of course, you guys stay up and keep digging into those old memories. Calendar Page is also rife with regrets, old thoughts, inadequacies, that usually haunt us at these early morning hours, but are far more surmountable when speaking them out loud.
However, once the ultimate track (not counting the bonus song) arrives, you realize you can’t make it. Sleepiness sets in, and despite the powerful urge to never sleep again, to keep talking and talking forever, your brain starts flickering and tapping out. And so, with Telephone, the night ends with a grand finale- a lullaby of tickling guitar plucks, a steel guitar floating, country-style twangs and delicate notes popping up all over (a total dream if you have the right headphones).
Brightly, the bonus track, is an equally dreamy treat, but isn’t a simple light add-on- it’s a full-fledged song with enough heartiness to erase any thought of it being a throw-away or superfluous track.
This album is an absolute night-walk. It’s precious, naked, honest, and unashamed- even when he sings of his own shame. This heart-to-heart is pure and direct, and constitutes as the perfect compatriot to fight the loneliness of a sleeping world. With songs like this, I could contend with a fully nocturnal sleeping schedule, and never feel too isolated.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that Nathan is truly one of the best fellas, a great and kind friend, and a full-on hug king. When I went to see Shakey Graves with him last month, I was reminded about how lucky we were to have such a straight-up pure songwriter to listen to, with no self-serving postures or disingenuous ambiguity. We also checked out a magical Bill Murray art-exhibit together, which was a total gas.
This album is his most unified and cohesive release yet- with his style’s transparency becoming so defined that a song of his could be covered by a dubstep goat and you could still recognize it as a Nathan K tune based on the melody alone. It’s easy to enjoy the darkness, the light, and every gradient in between on these tracks, so go ahead, listen, and let it carry you through the night with jokes, sweet sadness, and never-ending beautiful conversation.