In only six songs and 20-odd minutes, Nathan Oliver’s Head In The Sand bounds the length and breadth of the alt-rock canon with a crooked ear and a sure stride.
This EP marks the end of an eight-year hiatus for Nathan Oliver, a bedroom project of Nathan White that turns into a full band when you wish hard enough for a return to 2009, when the band last took the stage and America seemed to have a glimmer of hope.
That was also the year White began bouncing from city to city, project to project. His band The Evil Tenors kept him busy writing and performing, and he played with Potluck labelmates Organos and Schooner. But a return to Chapel Hill in late 2015 was a creative homecoming, giving White the freedom to focus on his craft and produce a document that’s both personal and engaging.
Any listener of HITS can tell that White is a student of alt-rock’s golden age — though one who has mastered the material and made it his own. Take “Marbles,” an irresistible oddball of an opener that kicks you in the Brainiac before launching into a big Nevermind-style chorus; or “Clean Sheets,” a wryly sunny take on longing that sounds like Stephen Malkmus gone pop.
Tying it all together is the sense that these songs are lived-in, that they speak to connecting — and not connecting — with the people in our lives. When White sings, “Clean sheets … what’s the point? You’re not here,” his cry is laced with self-deprecating humor. And his voice goes where his songs do, by turns crooning, straining, shouting.
While White’s longtime listeners will no doubt pick up on the familiar influences — notes of R.E.M. and The Shins in “Little Belle,” for example, or a Joey Santiago-inspired guitar lead in “The Exquisite Wait” — they will also notice that his songs have grown more deliberate and complex, his arrangements tighter.
“Sing Blue Silver” melds Sonic Youth and The Cure to arrive at payoff that screams “anthem” in a way no prior Nathan Oliver song quite has. Closing HITS is “Kim Mi Young,” a sweet, swaying piece of Americana with male-female vocals that nod to White’s long relationship with Schooner.
HITS is Nathan Oliver’s third release, following 2009’s Cloud Animals and 2007’s Nathan Oliver. It features drummer Robert Biggers of Le Weekend, D-Town Brass and Audubon Park, and bassist Duncan Webster of Hammer No More The Fingers and Beauty World. Producer Alex Maiolo, whose Seriously Adequate Studio has worked with The Love Language and Polvo, guided the HITS sessions over a long year, and the extended effort shows.
“Recording gradually over the course of 2016 provided space for more spontaneous sounds,” White says. But more than that, it fostered a real chemistry in the performances, a feeling that the final product is as much a band effort as it is the fruit White’s considerable songwriting gifts.
And as the band continues to evolve, it will return to the same stages it once shared with performers like Neil Halstead, Bombadil and Des Ark. Stay tuned for concert dates.
HEAD IN THE SAND
CD / Digital (2017)
CD / Digital (2009)
CD / Digital (2007)