Review: Liam Finn – ‘The Nihilist’

lfSometimes it’s just so easy to jump to a conclusion.

Upon receiving Liam Finn’s third album, and discovering it to be called ‘The Nihilist‘, it would seem sensible to expect a dark, angry and primal album. Full to the brim with angst and emotion.

Turns out the title is a total misnomer, adding a layer to the LP, and the sound, you anticipate will pour forth from the moment you press play.

What does pour forth is so unexpected it’s almost disorientating. Instead of fulfilling any dark expectations, the album is full of beauty, intelligence and wit. This misdirection is in itself central to how the album works, and how it succeeds. Nothing is as it first appears.

Not dark, but instead full of humour and joy. Rather than bleak and angry, it is irreverent and experimental. It is a playful record, one that toys with expectations and moods. The songs are heavily loaded with ideas, again making it easy to underestimate them. The appearance of simplicity disguising so much playfulness and detail, all produced with a brooding and immersive sound. The reasons for this only becoming clear after reading the label’s PR bumf, which is usually not worth the time it takes to delete it. Buried in there is the small note that all recording on the album was done only between the hours of darkness. Seemingly the smallest point, but by far the most informative.

Finn has almost no respect for convention. Styles and influences clash constantly throughout the record. So many that you expect it would become confused and unfocused. No, it’s not only focused, but it becomes clear very quickly that Finn is in complete control of every aspect.

Finn successfully manages to bring many ideas and influences together; the title track is brooding and feels almost like Massive Attack, while in contrast ‘Helena Bonham Carter‘ is playful and light, reminiscent of Spacehog. ‘Miracle Glance‘ is off-kilter and feels like the musical equivalent of stumbling. ‘Track Stomper‘ arrives brash and percussive, a standout moment. Teetering on the edge of an explosion, which you almost suspect Finn may not supply in his playfulness.

And so it continues; ‘Arrow‘ sounding like a fusion between ambient and hip-hop, moody and effective and a vocal that sounds like a sample from a lost Steely Dan or Alan Parsons Project record. ‘I‘ has something of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Dream Brother‘ to it, ‘Wild Animal‘ is almost out of place – pretty much a straight rock record, which is incongruous amongst all the experimentation.

Wrestle With Dad‘, the highlight of the album; putting aside any cod-freudian analogies and focusing on the track itself, it is truly mesmerising. Equally odd and disparate, and upbeat and driven. The powerful fuzzed out stomp of the track just explodes, and drags you along in its wake.

Finn has created a clean and concise album, with razor sharp textures and rhythms incorporating hip-hop and dance, but with classic rock and pop sensibilities. Harmony and tune, beauty and emotion, are never lost in the mix. Modern production techniques may be driving the sound and mood, but the music is always in control.

The fact that Finn manages to keep control of all this is not just impressive, but a joy to hear. The album is inventive and clever, but never bogged down with its own intelligence, it still has the wit and lightness of touch to be a joyous record. And Finn balances these strands wonderfully. It honestly makes you wonder what Finn was doing with his days, to make him this inventive and focused in the evenings.

It continually surprises, and seems to relish in delivering the unexpected.

(Dylan Llewellyn-Nunes)

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