Based in Bristol, The Nightjar are a close harmony quartet comprising guitarist Jez Anderson and singer Mo Kirby who’s accompanied on vocals by bassist Sarah Ricketts and Pete Thomas on guitars and drums. Describing themselves as lo-fi post-folk, they might usefully be seen as a sort of folk Portishead in that they make chilled, ethereal music, citing the likes of Grouper, Diane Cluck and Colleen as influences immediately slots them into a specialist avant-art niche.
According to the blurb, they’re inspired by “Eastern philosophical notions of emptiness, the ephemeral nature of reality and the cultivation of love and empathy for the world”, in particular, French composer Messiaen. Addressing transformation, transience and impermanence in “an attempt to understand how we construct our reality, endure change and, ultimately, face death,” they call the album “songs for the end of time.”
If all of that sounds a tad pretentious, then perhaps it’s best just to give them a listen. Recorded on basic equipment during late night sessions in a rural farmhouse in Portugal, it opens with All Objects Will Cease, one of six numbers either written or co-written with Kirby by Thomas, and, with Kirby’s breathily enervated vocals backed by, initially, musing electric guitar, immediately establishes the fragile, sparse nature of the material, the occasional harmonies giving an airy feel.
This, in turn, gives way to The Birds Were Made To Sing For Us, a battered piano offering minimalist notes behind the distant, echoey vocals to create a melding of ethereal psychedelia and traditional folk as it tells of a relationship in change. Indeed, they do also include Kirby’s arrangement of two trad tunes, the first being the familiar club staple Hangman Usually taken at a frisky pace, here, Kirby’s voice soaring, it’s reimagined as a far slower and more melancholic affair that focuses more on the despair and resignation than the misguided hope of being rescued.
Equally mournful, the second of the two, Dle Yaman, hails from Armenia and is built around a simple pulsingly repetitive keyboard line over which Kirby hypnotically warbles in the original language.
Back with the band’s own material, exploring a theme of letting go and liberating oneself from the past and memories, opening ominously with single keyboard notes
Wardrobe has a strong traditional feel, harking to the sort of pastoral Elizabethan song that might have formed part of a Shakespeare play, Ricketts and Kirby’s voice entwining beautifully. Those early traditional English folk influences can be keenly heard too on the gently swaying nomadic themed Cockleshell, while, using nautical measurement imagery for a song about mapping and navigating new territory, emotionally and physically, The Lead And Line with its icy piano notes has more of a modern, ethereal meditative air, underscored by Kirby’s otherworldly high notes.
Black Waters, by contrast, has, in places, an almost homely Musical Hall ballad feel, somewhat at odds with its theme of the encroaching tide of the unknown. Although here too the instrumentation is kept to the bare keyboard minimum, electronic static creaking intermittently.
Which leaves the final track, In The Sky Or In The Ground, with its distracted piano and touch of slide guitar, a meditation on life’s ultimately solitary journey with the wisdom of both the living and the dead guiding along the way, the tempo briefly picking up a slightly skittering pace with descending vocal scales midway.
It is, perhaps, rather too cerebral for the mainstream and also demands to be listened to in an isolation chamber to allow it to seep into the pores, but, like the nocturnal bird after which the band are named, its near silent flight is unerring.
Objects is released 17th March via Pear O’ Legs Records. Pre-Order it here.
Don’t miss their two album launch shows:
The Nightjar: Album Launch Shows
London show: 15 March (The Nest Collective) at Proud in Camden
Tickets and Details
Bristol show: 17 March at The Cube in Bristol
Tickets and Details
More here: thenightjarmusic.com
Photo Credit: Paul Blakemore