Keen For A Nudge LTD.
This is album number two for Wellington trio The Nudge. I’ve admired this band’s musicianship – all great players individually, and collectively – without ever being hugely connected to/engaged with their music. By that I mean I never actually heard the debut album but I was occasionally a fan of seeing the band live; the first time I saw them I was bowled over by the hugeness of their sound, and a certain precision. From there I was less impressed because I felt the band was fighting or at least fidgeting to find the right – actual – sound; Dark Arts is not just an album, not just an amazing album, it is the actual unlocking of that sound. The sound of The Nudge now fully realised.
Where previously there was almost a blues-rock vibe the band now moves right inside the space they were always hoping to occupy – a thoroughly modern take on psychedelic rock/pop that showcases the instrumentation and players but is about a collective sound always. First single, the opening, title track, works like an album-teaser. We have spacey synth sounds peeking in and around the relentless riff and rhythmic propulsion – and whether your idea of psychedelia begins and ends with either Pink Floyd or Tame Impala or traverses that spectrum to spill over into any and all other areas you’re going to be pretty happy at what you hear within the song Dark Arts. There’s a tension as the song winds up to finally release and across four minutes it is a mini-epic, a scene-setter for what’s to come.
This is an album comprised of just three tracks. Released on vinyl. The Dark Arts single is the closest thing to a pop song here and it sounds about as much like a pop song as the riotous late-60s psych anthems. This is Big Brother and The Holding Company through the filter of The Move, or its Floyd’s pre-Dark Side/post Syd sounds with funkier drums.
But it is also a launching pad, for from there we go headlong into the 13-minute extravaganza of The Balance Change. This is where The Nudge leave all elements of what they were behind and what they become through the journey of this song is their true selves; the full musical identity – all the colours, swirling, drifting – finally makes sense. There’s not a hint of attempted blues-rock bloat and instead this songs floats on through vintage vibes of windswept psychedelia, moods being conjured to hypnotically roll and twist into new shapes right before the ears. It’s mesmerising and (as with the entire record) so beautifully, stunningly co-ordinated and orchestrated; a nod to both playing and production.
Flip over the record and side two sees that boldness further expanded upon – an entire side devoted to a ‘song’ in three parts that is its own space-opera, nearly a concept-album within a concept album.
Again it’s all about the way the music flows through these players and you can get caught thinking you’re listening to the best elements of the old folk-ish tinged prog that used to (and sometimes still does) spin on your turntable. That’s where this was a crucial vinyl release. Not just a hipster-token, but actually an acknowledgment of the form and sounds that shaped the endeavour; the look, the feel, the aesthetic, beyond that the actual tools and tropes of the time. So many times I drift away with this piece of music – Bring Me Your Love Parts I, II, III, side two in its entirety – and think I’m listening to the best thing Mike Oldfield or Floyd or Crimson or ELP never quite did. There’s such a huge range of ideas here and alongside the core trio (Ryan Prebble on guitars/vocals, James Coyle on Rhodes bass/keys, Iraia Whakamoe on drums) there’s a choir of voices (Tessa Rain) and earlier in the record there are horn parts from Lucien Johnson, Gerard Crewdson, Eamonn Deverall , Andy Christiansen and Toby Laing. Look, everyone that had anything to do with this record deserves to take a bow. Because the main thing I’ve taken from Dark Arts is an artistic stubbornness: to make what wants to be made, to create what needs to be heard, to urge listeners on rather than hoping for catchy singalong jingles or little ad-breaks. This is music you wouldn’t – couldn’t – make unless you had your heart and soul and mind engaged, invested; there is something towering in the achievement of this record.
Midway through side two of Dark Arts there’s a passage of just acoustic guitar. It’s beautiful, serene, pastoral, but five minutes on we arrive near the foothills of where Santana soared with their Lotus, there’s movement and magic – and always music – for the entirety of this record.
I was gobsmacked when I first heard it. And on subsequent listens I’m simply pulled further into – and under – the spell. It’s a revelation of a record. It sounds fresh and alive and vital. At the same time, and this changes none of that, you could play side two to your old man and convince him it’s something you found in the depths of his record collection….
The Nudge’s Dark Arts is the prog record for people who hate prog. But it’s a prog record for people who love prog. It’s not even a prog record! It’s great skill to me is how funky and sharp it feels without ever being any sort of funk record.