Dave Hartley, bassist for Kurt Vile’s The War On Drugs, is set to release his sophomore solo-album, titled Oak Island, on January 22nd of this year under the name Nightlands. With a sound that effortlessly evokes a blend of The Smashing Pumpkins and Bon Iver, Nightlands is poised for a breakthrough year in music. Confidently riding the wave of the aptly named “ambient folk” genre, it’s easy to see how Oak Island might be a daunting endeavor for some of the more casual music listeners. But the real beauty of Nightlands’ new album is that the sound never ventures too far into its plethora of influences, remaining a wholly unique experience.
Oak Island’s opening track (“Time and Place”) outlines the thesis of the album, “I’d like to invite you / For just a little while / To place I used to go / When I was only 17 / Back to the place that I once knew”. Over the album’s ten-song spread, the listener begins to feel the weight of this statement. Nightlands isn’t aiming to make your generic album; instead, it embraces the idea of music as art and each song feels like a different memory revisited. “So Far So Long” and “You’re My Baby” sweep through a series of choral vocalizations layered with a quiet and static sound that draws the listener in.
Oak Island really begins to distinguish itself with songs like “Nico” and “Born To Love.” “Nico” erupts with acoustic energy, which is a welcome blessing after the calm that drifts over the first three tracks of the album. The vibrant track asks the listener to “dream on” repeatedly, its percussive nature inviting the listener to get up and dance. “Born To Love” feels like a sister song to Bon Iver’s “Perth” in all the best ways. Jangling and free, “Born To Love” proves Hartley has learned from The War On Drugs and is using it to his benefit in Nightlands.
Nightlands’ most stand-out song on Oak Island is easily “I Fell in Love With a Feeling.” Opening with a blaring horn arrangement, the song feels like a guttural kick to the senses in comparison to the other tracks. The lyrics mention that everything is a “matter of taste / A matter of time,” something that feels very akin to the overall experience of Oak Island itself.
While not every track packs a punch, Nightlands is intelligent enough to recognize when to use his sizable bag of tricks. Oak Island feels breezy and yet succinct in its driven purpose to place the listener in a memory of a time that is clearly important to Hartley. The ups and downs of the album are perfect for people who are new to the genre or are seasoned fans. If all Nightlands set out to do was capture a feeling, he has more than exceeded expectations.