Nightlands’ Intricate And Ruminative ‘Oak Island’

Nightlands' Oak Island is out now.
Nightlands’ Oak Island is out now.

From the very first lines, Nightlands coaxes you into his ruminative musical world: “I’d like to invite you / For just a little while, for just a little while / To a place I used to go, when I was only seventeen.”

The work of multi-instrumentalist — and bassist for Philly’s The War On Drugs — Dave Hartley, Nightlands crafts the kind of music that feels intimate and deeply personal, even as it sprawls into otherworldly realms. Hartley seems to write through a methodical process of assembling intricately textured instruments and stacking them to make gorgeous headphone music equally spacious and tactile.

Nightlands’ second album, Oak Island, mixes burbling electronics and layered keyboards with crisply raked guitar strums and dusty drum machine beats. It adds up to a distinct sound that sits comfortably between ambient folk, 1970’s AM radio, glittery synth pop, and a breezy, almost tropical feel. There are hints amidst the static of samba grooves, an occasional festive burst of horns, and some slack-stringed slide guitar that recalls both Hawaiian traditionals and the gauzy dream pop of Beach House.

And yet, despite the sonic experimentation and a near-mathematical approach, the songs on Oak Island reach for the heart. At the center is Hartley’s vocals, often cloaked in echoes or overdubbed harmonies that create gorgeous choruses of voices as he sings wistfully of love and dreams. The result is a lovely, soaring collection from a unique artist discovering his voice.

Favorite Album Art Of 2011

I spend a lot of time listening to music throughout the year, making my lists of favorite records, the best songs and so on and on. But in the process I cannot help but look at and think about the album artwork and how that accompanies this music. Increasingly, in this digital age, album art is relegated often to postage stamp-sized icons on our screens and iPhones, already downsizing from the pretty small size of CDs. Maybe people do not think about album covers as much, yet I still love to stare over them like I did as a kid. And I still tend to buy albums in LP format because I like seeing that cover nice and big.

In lieu of a best albums of the year list, I decided to curate this list of my favorite album covers of the year. Below is but a sampling of some of the excellent artwork from 2011, some of which point to a few of the thematic trends in imagery, typography, illustration and intricacy.