Soft vocal harmonies adorn the lush opening bars of the surreal acoustic ballad “Almost an Angel,” and while their boldly evocative textures are all the more pronounced thanks to a brilliant delivery from singer Rachel Adams, they represent but a sliver of the unfiltered emotionality that listeners will discover when browsing the tracklist of Still Gushing, the first studio album from Nocturnal Blonde. Nocturnal Blonde was formed with the mission of shedding light on the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, and specifically to tell stories inspired from the life of Athens stalwart Richie Williams’ brother, Dave (cowriter of Still Gushing), who came close to losing his life in a tragic overdose not too long ago. In songs like “Almost an Angel,” the sharply poetic “Flesh,” rollicking title track and short but utterly crushing “Oh, D,” Nocturnal Blonde provide us a perspective on life through the lens of addiction, and more explicitly, the ways that it affects everyone around it, that has never been presented in an American alternative record before now. Still Gushing is both guttural in its blunt emissions and gorgeous in its melodic stylization, and personally I consider it to be one of the most important releases to come out of Athens, Georgia in 2019.
“Smart Heart,” the driving force behind Nocturnal Blonde’s debut extended play, gets the tracklist rolling with a haunting stomp that reverberates into the ethers long after the music has stopped. “Blown Away” wastes no time in sweeping us right off of our feet in the ashes of its compositional predecessor, using a slow-churning gallop to draw us closer to the neo-psychedelic nucleus of the song. The playful strut of “Scripted” is deceptively poppy at the start of the track, but after a swift vocal volley, it quickly grows into a sleek, punkish ballad steeped in melancholic melodies. It shares a rhythmic bloodline with the flamboyant “Ricochet,” but the two songs are separated by an ocean of distortion formulating the foundation for the latter. Even when Nocturnal Blonde are suffocating us with self-aware lyricism in tracks like “Wings and Horns” and “Drained,” they never translate as woefully indulgent or overly thematic in any capacity.
When I sat down with Still Gushing for the first time over the weekend, I was immediately captivated by the song “This House,” and not because of its unmatched instrumental harmonies and brilliantly produced riffage alone. In this composition, it’s almost impossible to escape the provocative clutch of the verses; in an instant, the narrative washes over us and imparts to us everything occupying the players’ hearts in a single swinging groove. “This House” is reason enough to check out Nocturnal Blonde’s new album this coming August 23rd, but discriminating alternative aficionados will find that it’s accompanied by eleven equally fascinating submissions of the most erudite variety. Still Gushingis at times difficult to consume, but its underlying message of hope and an inalienable, illuminated optimism lying at the end of even the darkest of tunnels makes it an essential listen this season. This is as personal as pop music gets, and I doubt that I’m the only critic saying as much right now.