Review Summary: An uncaptured eutierria in a far from hollow scene
Between some notable cues in his wistful falsetto and an undeniable penchant for crafting sparse, disentangling acoustic ballads, comparisons between Novo Amor and Bon Iver are unsurprising, and perhaps all too expected. Indeed, even in his name and presence, British indie-folk forerunner Ali Lacey’s Novo Amor evokes a foreign romanticism not unfamiliar to the music and aesthetic of Justin Vernon. Yet whilst it might seem unfair to cast Novo Amor to the shadows of a predecessor whose legend precedes him, it isn’t to discredit his work on Bathing Beach
, which embodies a range of gorgeous soundscapes all its own.
As the short collection floats in and out of a sort of vivid manifestation through song, Bathing Beach
(dis)appears an aural ignis fatuus. Far from formless, though nonetheless free, the four songs find themselves formed through a considered delicateness. Apt in title, ‘Anchor’ presents an impressive wispiness that is as light and gossamer as its preceding tracks, though manages to tether itself at a distance closer to the earth it romanticises. Whilst it adheres to an altogether familiar pattern – a fragile acoustic pattern births the track and nurses it towards an ethereal arrangement of dissonant strings and subtle percussion – the guitar’s echoing base notes and percussive hits, coupled with some quiet, though nonetheless urgent cymbal splashes in the song’s climax take hold and ground an otherwise ascending material. Towards the final minute of ‘Embody Me,’ Lacey yearns, “Oh, I’m in agony / Your anatomy is gone,” and the song itself appears very close to its last breath. If the discernible guitar melodies are the song’s backbone, the strings and subtle sliders its essence, then the hushed vocal performances are its lifeblood; the strings that close Bathing Beach
therefore seem to lay rest to a voice whose each breath acts as its last. In this sense, the closer is perhaps the most apropos the album could have had; Novo Amor never quite maintain a distinctive form, for better or worse.
A lot of the charm of Novo Amor exists in an unwillingness to pave and follow a path of his own. Bathing Beach
floats among the peripheries of its and other’s musical direction, refusing to settle. Which isn’t to argue that the album is all that adventurous either, traipsing down strange and obscure rabbit holes, but that it floats down paths, uncommitted and never quite willing to plant feet. Although Bathing Beach’s
structure and progression feels logical and intended, so do dreams. And yet, whilst each song follows a familiar formula of subtle builds, unwinding passages, and unhurried climaxes, the album is often amorphous and exciting, simply lovely. Giving foundation to the album’s opener ‘Carry You,’ a coupling of finger-picked acoustic rhythms pans and intertwines. Utilising a series of hypnotic patterns, at once blissful and disorienting, as a means of lulling the listener into equal parts enchantment and confusion, Novo Amor quickly reels in the listener. It isn’t an uncommon trick, but it works in his favour, and is part of what makes Bathing Beach
just so relentless. It's hard to snap out.
Each of Bathing Beach’s
elements complement one another to an extreme degree. All of its elements, simple as they may be, coalesce to form an impressive ode to a place and feeling nondescript; an emotion unfelt, an uncertain and faceless illumination. On Bathing Beach
, Novo Amor cups hands around sparks, and blows gently, nursing an eventual flame no less warm than faint and threatened.