Nerves Junior - "As Bright As Your Night Light"
Release Date: Sept 6th, 2011
Label: SonaBlast Records
In 2000, Radiohead showed us the future in musical form with their album Kid A. From the textures of each song to the imagery conjured up from the lyrics, the album somehow felt otherworldly. There simply wasn’t anything else like it at the time, and, amazingly enough, in the years that followed, there still wasn’t anything like it. Sure, Radiohead influenced a slew of bands in the following years, but to this day there isn’t a single album out there that sounds quite like Kid A.
Now, I’m not saying the debut LP from Louisville’s Nerves Junior sounds anything like Kid A or is nearly as influential, but it’s the first record since Kid A that fills a void I didn’t know existed until hearing the album. Like Kid A, As Bright As Your Night Light takes the listener to a world of sound that’s completely unfamiliar. And, much like the geography of Kid A, it’s a world you can’t help but want to explore. There are moments on As Bright As Your Night Light where you hear the influences of hundreds of bands, but the complete album is a unique masterpiece in itself that introduces the authors as innovators, visionaries, and the creators of a future sound.
Describing the overall sound on As Bright is a complicated task. The structural framework of each song reflects traditional pop music, but electronics weave in and out of each track adding an abstract quality that tilts the standard framework slightly off balance. Guitars drive each song as the melody drifts confidently into a new thought or sonic moment.
The opening track “Champagne & Peaches” is a nice palette cleanser to enter the record. A bass slowly trots along with lead singer Cory Wayne’s voice floating high above. Nerves Junior proceeds to do what they do best: layer new sound over new sound, not a single one feeling out of place or forced. It’s in the introduction of these new sonic moments that the listener receives their biggest reward. Every track plays off of expectation and surprise, never jolting the listener, but always perking their ears up. By the end of the “Champagne & Peaches” every layer is working like a cog in an advanced machine, each necessary for the final product to successfully operate.
Nerves Junior then moves into their dark, bold, and downright tenacious songs “Swimmers Ear”, “As Bright As Your Night Light”, and “Nails To Scratch With”. All three songs feel like Wayne is up in the listeners’ face, eyes connected, refusing to let go vocally. “Swimmers Ear” finds the melody bouncing up and down like a thin wooden floor about to buckle. “As Bright As Your Night Light” opens with a simple fax machine sounding synth juxtaposed with thunderous percussion that seems to grow and grow like an out of control force. “Nails To Scratch With” is all about the guitar, with a razor cutting set of guitars slowly swirling and morphing into one of the best moments of the album, an intense, perfect climax around the 2:35 mark. These songs are audacious, clear evidence that this is a band that refuses to hide behind the music that came before it, a group of musical innovators who are lighting all of their influences on fire and not even turning around to watch them burn.
At this point the listener is exhausted, having being assaulted by three straight aggressive songs. Most first time bands would continue the assault, but Nerves Junior shows great maturity and restraint by scaling back their next two tracks and showing a softer side that is completely unexpected at this point in the album. Both “In Absentia” and “Get Left In The Dark” act as reflective moments, allowing drifting electronics and slowly strummed guitars to conjure up a meditative ambiance. These two tracks don’t play within the guidelines of time. The songs are a black hole where a short section can feel like an eternity without ever becoming tiresome. At the 3:16 mark of “In Absentia” the song drops out and a soft acoustic guitar comes in. It’s quickly joined by an echoing electric guitar and washes of electronics, a moment that introduces Nerves Junior as a band that’s not afraid to teeter on the peak of emotion and raw beauty. “Get Left In The Dark” is lead by an acoustic guitar and a slightly optimistic, yet curious vocal tone. With this track Nerves Junior strips itself of the previous layers and works within the confines of a simpler sound. Half way through “Get Left In The Dark”, violins creep out of the darkness and seem to split into different forms like dividing amoebas, each one taking a different role in the soundscape. The wonders of Nerves Junior are on display with the display of simplicity that somehow feels classically grand.
“Kale” breaks the quiet trend and is the standout track off As Bright As Your Night Light. Crafted by steady handed songwriting, it mixes the best qualities of the six tracks that appear before. On “Kale”, Nerves Junior is in complete control, driving the listener toward an explosive guitar at the 3:12 mark that seems to descend from the heavens. After the climax, Wayne sings softly, almost a whisper, and delivers a string of sentences that float like smoke, a large bloom that thins out and disappears. “Luciferin” is Nerves Junior’s last moment of intensity on As Bright As Your Night Light and they use all four and half minutes building tension in order to pay off another explosive ending. And just when you think it can’t emote any more ferociousness, it tops itself, again and again.
As Bright As Your Night Light closes with one of the most emotionally powerful songs I’ve ever heard. When listening to “Downtown Lament” I always drift away and think about the eight tracks that came before, my relationship/love for music, and my place here on earth. That’s the power of great music. In fact, the only other closing track that brings me to the same state of mind is “Motion Picture Soundtrack” off Radiohead’s Kid A. “Downtown Lament” is a sorrowful song that somehow ends up feeling optimistic. Wayne sings, “Don’t be afraid” over and over as the song closes. As a whole, the song conjures up visuals of the apocalypse, complete destruction all around, but the music within the song acts as a comfort, a passing on into the unknown, with reassurance that everything will be fine.
Just as Kid A would later define the events and years to follow its release, As Bright As Your Night Light musically defines the world now and for the foreseeable future. The albums that mean the most to me are the ones that re-define how I experience, visualize, and feel music. Over the nine tracks, Nerves Junior crafted an album that conjures up a sonic world unique to them, with a clear vision of how the listener should explore and receive their artistic creation. For me, As Bright As Your Night Light no longer lives on a computer, cd, or record. The songs have crawled through my ears, bloomed inside my mind, and will forever remind me of the power that music has to surprise, excite, and change the way listeners look at the world.