Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nathan Oliver - Head in the Sand

Nathan Oliver - Head in the Sand 

The improbably named band Nathan Oliver is led by its primary songwriter Nathan White and marks a triumphant return to the scene with their third recording Head in the Sand. This marks the project’s first output since 2009’s Cloud Animals and the world could have scarcely changed more in the interim. Some of the tenor of our times is reflected in Head in the Sand’s six songs, but never in a heavy handed way. White’s songwriting, instead, channels more than that – it brings together a living fidelity to the alternative rock style of his youth and has the same personal, yet imaginative, touch that distinguished the band’s prior releases. White works with bassist Duncan Webster and drummer Robert Biggers on this release and they prove early on to be ideal collaborators for this material. White is, certainly, the main mover behind this release, but there’s also no question that Head in the Sand never sounds like a solo vehicle in disguise. This is a real band and they establish that on each of the EP’s six cuts.  
“Marbles” shows, if nothing else, that Nathan White is eager to reassert this band’s identity. The first track is a near unrelenting blast of post punk raucousness with a lung-busting vocal from White and a viscerally recorded instrumental attack. Much like the other songs on Head in the Sand, “Marbles” doesn’t waste a second of the listener’s time and recalls the spirit of its influences without ever sounding beholden to them. The band’s songwriting has a real habit of making unexpected excursions and proves that for the first time on this release with the song “Clean Sheets”. This song, at its essence, is a track about longing and White embodies that emotional quality with ease. The poppier aspects of the song are quite a surprise following the slashing guitar chords and intensity of the opener, but the jarring effect produced from juxtaposing these songs is pleasing rather than challenging. “Little Belle” has a much more outright retro feel and shares some similarities on guitar with the previous song. The vocal presentation is a little more traditional as well, but it never lacks the same energy and effectiveness as White’s earlier singing performances. 
“The Exquisite Wait” wraps up a dollop of social consciousness, a helping of the personal, and some individualistic turns of phrase into a song that marries the best aspects of tracks like the opener with some of the relaxed commercial feel of the previous two tracks. White’s wide-open singing is another appealing aspect of track. The final track “Kim Mi Young” ends Head in the Sand with the same punch and musical variety that we’ve been exposed to on the preceding five songs. There’s no question that White’s capable of finessing his singing approach, but he has some great vocal muscle as well. The closer illustrates that quite nicely. Nathan Oliver’s Head in the Sand may be their first recording in nearly ten years, but it’s obvious that the project still provokes White’s songwriting imagination in memorable ways and Head in the Sand stands among the best alt rock releases in 2017.  

Robert Elgin

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