Review Summary: Sometimes you just need time
Writing this review was a personal challenge because Nara Nara Voltsong for Shower
is in many ways completely alien to me. Nightmare Puppy’s auteur/mastermind, Johnny King, appears to specialise in chiptune video game soundtracks and, considering that I’ve never listened to chiptune music before and haven’t played any kind of videogame with any kind of seriousness in a long
time, I was approaching Nara Nara
’s mostly lo-fi digital storytelling without any kind of pre-existing framework by which to evaluate it, and to be frank, even enjoy it.
But my resistance to the album eventually yielded to appreciation. Nara Nara
is more than the sum of its considerably, and surprisingly, diverse parts. Elements of post-rock, mathy prog, and even dance-y synth rock float by, creating a mélange of sounds that have a fairly cohesive identity of their own, driven by stuttering, yet driving beats, strong melodies, epic progressions and harmonies, and impressive guitar-work that’s bit-crushed and manipulated to sound like some of the greatest keytar heroism since Frankie went to Hollywood.
’s songs were apparently composed by King over the course of about 5 years with various influences seeping into his creative process, and to an extent that shows in the songs themselves. There are some broad stylistic jumps; from the lush enveloping soundscapes of the opener, “All My Friends are Sleeping in Trees”; to the very 8-Bit J-Rock follower, “Turn the Helicopter Lights Off”; to the straightforward synthrock—henceforth I will stop prefixing words with “synth”—of “Catastrophe of Dirty Laundry”; and back again.
However, few of the songs stay confined within discernible genres as King flexes considerable compositional muscle that twists songs around and in on themselves before they emerge almost unrecognizably on the other side. “Homewrecker”, for instance, starts with minimalistic pads over a breakbeat before being torn to shreds by the shards of a chaotic, squealing guitar solo until order is restored by a cathartic crescendo. Similarly, "Caffeine Icicle" starts off similarly simply, with suspended pad hits punctuated by bass before the skittering guitar comes in and the song acquires a driving disco beat and bassline.
Clearly, Nara Nara
’s epic scope encompasses a wide range of sounds, but, some of these sounds work better than others. King’s knack for widescreen cinematicism is consistently impressive and often transcends into breathtaking beauty. When he lets himself be huge, he is capable of evoking real emotion with organic opuses that live and breathe and claw and scream at just the right moments. The majority of the second half of Nara Nara
is comprised of soundscapes that you can get lost in before angular noise rips holes in the fabric to find you. The first half however, which comprises the bulk of the more chiptune-y songs, is more hit-and-miss. There are plenty of great melodic and compositional ideas, but they aren’t given time to evolve, grow and resolve the way the back half of the album is, and don’t make as much of an impact because of it. Still, it’s hard to fault this level of ambition with a one-man release. And with the amount of depth and detail contained in each track, you'll find plenty to love on every one of them, if you just give it time.
Listen and download here: https://nightmarepuppy.bandcamp.com/