This Nathaniel Bellows article was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.
Nathaniel Bellowsis what you could call a renaissance man. He is already a well-respected poet, visual artist, lyricist, and now musician.
‘The Old Illusions’ is an earnest album built around childhood memories and what it is like to reflect upon these or shuck them off during adulthood.Bellowsemploys a minimal approach to song writing. In the main, these solemn ballads are based around acoustic guitar, piano, flute, backing vocals and the deep voice ofBellows. The style is not dissimilar to earlyLeonard Cohen, both in the sparseness of instrumentation, and in the poetic style and content. The simplistic nature of the composition works well with the poet’s lyrical style, allowing the skeletal rhythm of the words to show healthily through a lean body of guitar and atmosphere.
The opening track, ‘Oh, now’ starts with swift finger plucking,“All I said was lead the way and she forgave my old allegiance.”This is at once opaque and transparent, hinting at a very real relationship that is not easy to unpick.Bellowshas a mature voice; the use of language is indicative of a soul that still sees romance in life, but as a complexity that describes the impossibility to fully comprehend existence, rather than an ideal to strive for.
‘Modern Days’ follows, which is also strong. The percussive guitar is a structure on which to build the story and the chorus is intriguing, positive and realistic“Can we say that we’ll all be forgiven one day coming soon? Does it follow to say that tomorrow is half-way in the mood? Can this extend to the end, or is that too sad to do?”
The next two songs are both based on the sea. Bellows grew up on the New England coast, so this makes sense given the album’s theme. ‘At Sea’ is perhaps the mostCohen-esquetrack. This features flute panning across speakers to create a space of magic, sublime and unknowing. ‘Reel’ is an angrier message, it finishes with“and to them it’s all truth, these lies to you,”perhaps suggesting a certain naivety on behalf of the song’s intended listener.
‘Who Made it So’ has the added dimension of another instrument (a sitar, harmonium, or possibly effects pedals). The sound judders and shudders through this song, stretching time and shattering into broken chords.
‘The Reason’ is fully realised, starting with a wash of female voices swathing gentle arpeggios. The vocals come in,“And the common key was C when the cloud carved out me.”The poetry is dense, but it seems likely that there has been a breakdown of some kind. The piano and electric guitar add to this mysterious composition.
‘What Would You Do’ is about being haunted by a religious upbringing. It is enveloped with ghostly angelic voices floating through the music that threaten to invade the strong, clear voice. ‘The Calm’ finishes the album with a story about a missing person, perhaps a child. There is a harp like instrument which shimmers over the surface. The chorus kind of falls out of the centre; suddenly what has been so clean is muddied and hard to hear.
‘The Old Illusions’ is an impressive debut. The only criticism would be that the composition, pace, shape, and atmosphere are quite similar from song to song. With the subject matter being quite down, this makes it hard to listen to in one sitting. However, if this sounds like the kind of music and mood you are striving to listen to, it will fulfil your curiosity.
‘The Old Illusions’ is out on self release via Bandcamp.