Scott Nicks, if he wanted to, probably could have categorized his latest album—almost five years since his last—as dream pop. If he decided to go in that direction, he would be one of the few artists on the planet whose music actually fits that description.
String of Dreams indeed flows like a dream—lush, varied compositions are complemented by fuzzy samples, sometimes jumping so suddenly it’s like you’ve just woken up from the REM state.
The biggest change between this album and Slowly is the sheer number of people involved. This album features regular bandmates Jordan Murphy and Justin McGrath (of Walrus and Shadow Folk) and also gets some contributions from Jennah Barry and Mike O’Neill—not to mention the orchestral-instrument contributions from Dave Christensen, Gina Burgess and John Spearns.
As with Slowly, Nicks excels at singing quiet songs, like the rather heartbreaking “Leave My Heart As You Left It,” the gentle, acoustic-backed ending song with some emotional first lyrics: “I once had a plan/I want to be your man/For days I’ll treat you right/And dream of you at night.” And though the sample at the beginning of “Mumble” is more indicative of the song’s place on this album, it’s also a quieter song.
But Nicks’ ambition really pays off elsewhere. Opener “Old Radio Sound” opens with a piano riff that could have placed the song in the 1950s, but as Nicks begins to sing the song morphs considerably as it adds some funky guitar, and later solos from both guitar and flute. “The Pond,” another one of the album’s best songs, features a dreamy bit of piano and gentle drumming. It sounds like it could be another mellow trip into the sunset, but gradually adds some wonderful strings, clarinet and harmonies to turn up the volume just a little.
“String of Dreams and Conversations” is of course the album’s most ambitious number, working through a real cycle of scattered images and instrumentation. For a nearly 11-minute song, it doesn’t at all feel like it drags.
String of Dreams is a testament to many things—Nicks’ growing confidence as a composer and the abundance of talent in the Halifax music scene to name just a few.
Top Tracks: “Old Radio Sound”; “The Pond”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*