Emerging from a bricolage of the American folk singer-songwriter tradition and lyrically melancholic tone of contemporary pop underground, it is almost by fluke, an odd turn in direction for frontrunner of Page France and Cotton Jones, to release a solo album. The result of such organic songwriting and a masterful instinct for arrangement exhibited by the artist within the pastel indie pop outfit of Page France and Cotton Jones is an uplift, a brightness. With an increasing impetus for a solo album swelling in Cotton Jones haitus after the release of ‘Tall Hours in the Glowstream’, there has been great excitement and debate as to where Nau will go next.
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‘Mowing’, charmingly unrefined, an album of almost messy indie rock constructed from old demos, has a hypnotic quality unmatched by any of the artist’s previous material, bringing together and often transcending the genres visited within. While Nau’s hypnotic spell unifies the album as a whole, it is never more present than in ‘Smooth Isles’, a track resonant of Pearls Before Swine, moving the listener between waves of undulating textures. In contrast, ‘While You Stand’ has a simplicity, raw and organic, ringing of the folk vibes emanated by The Treetop Flyers; tinkling, high-reaching piano, hushed tones of ‘So, So Long’ then reground.
The known Nau/McGraw sound of Cotton Jones is never more present than in ‘Maralou’, a sweet duet, its almost percussive, hushed icy piano blasts driving the track forward to ‘Mow’, a slow swelling, uncharacteristically jazzy instrumental interlude. We then embrace the mellatronic winds of ‘Winter Beats’, with almost trippy ebb and flow within the rhythm sections swirling around the listener like a sea gale.
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However, while the whole album has a unity and complete continuity, the final track, ‘In There’ stands apart somewhat from the rest. With inflections of traditional folk melodies twisting and spiralling through bird-like solo strings, the opening soundscape creates a completely fresh atmosphere before distortion encroaches and the ethereal collage comes to a close. A lonely guitar then begins with a plucked pattern very typical of the American folk tradition and country blues as the vocals enter, double-tracked and dripping with reverb. ‘In There’ is stylistically and typically Nau, while the track also marks the moment at which his voice reaches its finest moment arguably to date. Subdued yet beautiful, warm yet sharp, it is the perfect album closer to Nau’s latest episode of metamorphosis.
While ‘Mowing’ is a collection of old songs and demos, they are most undoubtedly the most forward step in his career; they have a timeless quality generally and within his own musical career. Seeming both like a progression of his previous musical output with Cotton Jones and Page France and merely the starting point of a new era, ‘Mowing’ is arguably the most integral and original album to date, an album that will mark 2016 as a very important year for Michael Nau.