Nolan Potter’s new album Music Is Dead is an arch title as, in Potter’s hands, it sounds very much alive if stretching back in time to reference sounds out of the psychedelic 1960s. Potter has spent the global pandemic home recording a set of songs that sound grander and more widescreen than the product of a spare room or garden shed. It’s no mean feat that, although he plays everything, it still sounds like a cohesive band. Also, props to the cover art by Julie Wierd which is a treasure trove of an image to pour over to see what you can spot (Kate Bush? Charlie Parker? Arthur and Excalibur? A D&D 20-sided dice? and so, so much more).
The opening song ‘One Eye Flees Aquapolis’ could easily be called ‘This is the dawning of the age of Aquapolis’ as it conjures up mountain top vistas and golden sun shining down on cheesecloth wearing long hairs twirling on soft dewy grass. The beads come off for ‘Stubborn Bubble’ a pounding wig out of staccato guitar stabs, mayhem and gel slides. ‘Gregorian Chance’, my favourite track on Music Is Dead, picks up flavours of David Axelrod and Lalo Schifrin and could easily be lifted from the soundtrack to a supercool Steve McQueen film. ‘Holy Scroller’ and ‘Preeminent Minds’ are the kind of Brill Building song craftsmanship that dominated the 60s charts (Brill Building writers included Burt Bacharach, Neil’s Diamond and Sedaka, Paul Simon, Carole King and Leiber and Stoller) and the title track is full blown odyssey sweeping from the cities of 60’s pop across multicoloured oceans to a motorik climax of flutes and drums tumbling together in an electronic sky.
Nolan Potter has created a slice of tie-died perfection on Music Is Dead, with its modern take on the heightened colours, reverbed vocals, swirling tunes, cracking guitar riffs and flute of 60s alt-pop (I think the flute is an instrument deserving of a pop renaissance). Unlike the too-perfect quantized* music of the charts there is a fuzzy-round-the-edges quality to this release, and I mean that as a huge compliment. It’s refreshing to hear something that sparkles with the feel of a musician not a programmer.
* In digital music, quantization is the studio-software process of transforming performed musical notes, which may have some imprecision due to expressive performance…that eliminates the imprecision.
Review by Paul F Cook