Nowhere Now

Waterstrider

Columbia Records, 2016

http://waterstridermusic.com

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/15/2016

Nowhere Now may only be a debut album, but Nate Salman (the main force behind Waterstrider) proves in spades that he is a great example of an artist who knows exactly what he wants out of his music and how to bring his ideas – as complex as they might be – to life with utmost sophistication. Not only that, but he, along with his bandmates, also has the musical talent to make this happen. Waterstrider’s music cannot be conjured up and performed by simply any band that fancies to take its art to a new level.

Perhaps the most distinguishing element of this Oakland, CA-based outfit is their incorporation of Afrobeat influence. The ensuing ecstatic and intricate rhythms not only have the distinct African percussion style but also guitars that often sound like they are played by no less than an enthusiastic promising young musician from, say, Lagos.

However, Waterstrider isn’t just some “Femi Kuti” wannabe act. They have their own identity, and their take on Afrobeat is pretty novel. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nowhere Now is dark and haunting. Salman and gang use the foot-tapping African rhythms not as a regaling force, but to add immediacy and grit to this set of gloomy songs. For instance, the tracks “White Light,” “Redwood,” “Soundless Sea,” “Calliope,” “New Sun,” and “Nowhere Now” are quite dark to begin with, but the rapid and exuberant rhythms make them breathe fire!

The kind of bleakness on Nowhere Now is not one of resignation but that of relentlessness, and Salman’s vocals play as big a part in making this happen as the music itself. His haunting falsetto vocals can be compared to the likes of Thom Yorke, but they are much fiercer. His vocals are sensitive, but not “whiny,” and you can feel the fieriness in his singing. He sings like he is out to prove a point, something that he exhibits perfectly at the end of “Calliope,” where he stretches his vocals as if he was possessed by the devil, or on the hushed and sparse “Just A Taste,” where both his frantic wails as well as soft tense singing have a chilling effect.

Like a typical debut mini-album by a fledgling band, The EP release prior to this debut, 2011’s Constellation, finds Salman and his crew in the process of figuring out a sound that they could call their own, and which would eventually be the template for their big debut full-length release. On that point, the African influences exhibited on Constellation – especially its principal track, the title song, which comes across as somewhat of a blueprint for most of this disc – sound like the sort of approach that a more traditional indie pop band might take with “non-Western” music: giving in to the ethnic sound and making pleasant pop music out of it instead of trying something new and different.

But with the Afrobeat influenced, melancholic and edgy indie rock music on Nowhere Now, Salman and company have not only found their own voice but seem to have honed it to perfection. This might only be a debut effort, but it is the kind of album that no band could create unless they are at the very top of their creative peak.

Rating: A

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