It would have been easy for Nicole to work these songs into something that fit neatly with pop expectations and dance requirements. She could have done that and still ended up with something rather good, still in touch with the times, and indeed, an album that says plenty about where the creative and cutting edge of modern pop music is at.
However, what I love about this collection of songs is not that she seems concerned with making music for today but rather gently pushes boundaries and concerns herself with making tomorrow’s music. Not in a radical way; her songs still fall into the realms of indie, alternative, or underground pop; it’s just that they are more about where we are going than where we have been, musically speaking. It’s music from the fringes, music playing by its on rules. And that is always a more exciting prospect.
The opener, appropriately called the start (she’s not big on title capitalization), is an excellent slice of recognisable pop. Still, she quickly introduces a tumble of beats and glitchy percussion to subvert expectations wonderfully. Subversion is the name of the game, gentle subversion, but subversion nonetheless. After all, why give them what they want, what they think they want, at least, when you can give them what you know they need? And so she does just that.
minute stomps and swaggers but is somehow still spacious and delicate, itself a beguiling combination; love/light feels like a more conventional ballad until it is shot through with sonic rays of searing sound before it picks up some depth-charge bass beats and evolves into something else altogether and Listen feels like a sort of industrial-tribal interface, both cool and clinical yet human and, in its own odd way, harmonious. And then there are songs like Take It, which ebb and flow in and out of consciousness, as if part of the process is a radio dial being retuned, sometimes engaging and immediate, sometimes drifting and distant.
It is a remarkable album. A set of songs that are pop, but not quite pop music as we have heard before. It’s danceable but not really dance music. Cultish but still with commercial potential, at least it would be if more discerning music fans turned away from the same old, landfill chart music we have been relentlessly offered for the past few decades. It’s time for a change, and this album just underlines that fact.
Drifting and dream-like, fractured and fragile, this is a new form of pop music, for want of a better word. If you want to know where the charts should be heading and what mainstream music should sound like if we just abandoned the tried and tested templates and got more adventurous, then this is one possible vision of what the future might sound like. Fingers crossed.