The singer-songwriter at times can seem like an over-populated breed, where middling platitudes outnumber emotional insight. But, when you hit upon the real thing, it is unmistakable. New Zealand native Nadia Reid is the real thing, a fact that her debut album Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs backs up in spades.
It’s been a long time coming since the 24-year-old Dunedenite’s first offering, 2011’s Letters I Wrote and Never Sent EP, but fittingly for its long gestation period Listen to Formation… sounds like a summation of Reid’s experiences so far, revealing a perceptive old head on young shoulders. Songs emerge at a measured pace and coalesce into razor-sharp observations on relationships, nature and growth, and while on Letters I Wrote… Reid could sound smothered by her band, her malleable acoustic work and captivating vocals are now placed firmly centre stage.
Against a backdrop of shuffling beats and a lazily strummed acoustic, Track of the Time gently unfolds with the soporific warmth of Mazzy Star’s desert meditations, while Reid’s voice possesses the same crisp and searching quality as Laura Marling. Reaching Through on the other hand pulls the lead out with thunderous jangling guitars ringing out, while the dreamy bar-room confessional vibe of jilted lover’s tale Ruby and Holy Low will satisfy those missing Lera Lynn’s bewitching appearances in the latest season of True Detective, with equally tarnished characters: “Sally, she is pregnant, not the only one / Jimmy’s doing lines in the old grey barn”.
Lyrically, a deep current of introspection runs through the album and Reid excels in drawing deep from that source. The rumbling slow dance of Just To Feel Alive poses the question “how many people call themselves lovers?”, only for Reid to answer it with her own admission: “We’re really creatures of the night. I only do this in my silvery skin just to feel alive”. Meanwhile, contemplative highlight Some Are Lucky sees Reid untethered from her acoustic guitar and seemingly alone on an ocean of her own thoughts, considering the “little things that bring me down” in a fractious relationship. “He has his mother’s last name, takes the world in vain, has me on my knees”, she muses while weighing her dissatisfactions against the fate of others, her languorous voice stretching out into the void as reverb-drenched guitars swell around her and snares ripple into the distance, finally concluding “I will never know”.
What comes across most though is Reid’s sheer self-possession. Just as the lines that open the album “when I hit the ground in all my glory, I will know where I have come from” (Runway) suggest, Look to Formations… is built sure footing, with the maturity of Reid’s lyrics matched by the sureness in her voice and an unflinching conviction in her music. Few debuts sound so fully formed, but this one shows an emergent talent whose work possesses a quiet intensity that moves you gently, but surely just as the moon tugs the tide.
Review by: James MacKinnon
Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs is Out Now via Spunk Records
Available via: Amazon