Music Review: Nina Nesbitt — The Sun Will Come up, The Seasons Will Change
Nina Nesbitt is a British singer-songwriter that originally came up with the help of Ed Sheeran and the wave of folk pop that he introduced to the world around the early 2010s, and after stumbling around musically for several years she left her old record label for an indie label and started working on this album in 2016, with it dropping last year. I haven’t listened to her past albums, but the critical consensus seems to be that I’m not missing very much. Regardless, after encountering several of the songs on indie pop playlists and seeing her new album on several listicles of overlooked LPs, I decided to give it a shot.
The album goes for a primarily indie pop sound, with very obvious folk and R&B influences mixed in thoroughly throughout it. The mainstream artist that I think acts as the best comparison for her sound would be Lorde, specifically Melodrama, with a bit of folksy Ed Sheeranism in there in terms of acoustic guitar and story-driven songwriting. The songs generally let Nesbitt’s voice carry the song, with relatively spare instrumentation compared to other pop songs. This approach definitely works in the album’s favour, as Nesbitt has a great voice that soars on the high notes, lending real power to the emotional peaks of the songs, as well as a mildly coarse, spoken-word like, understated delivery on the lower-pitched verses, which lends a strong effect of contrast and emotional sincerity to the work. The effects on her singing is subtle and occasional, often only kicking in during the bridges, which once again allows her voice to breath and helps integrate the folksy and electronic parts of the album together. This is by no measure a production-driven album, as sonically the main course is Nina Nesbitt’s expressive vocal performance, though the best songs on the album are supported by great instrumental hooks in between the verses and choruses. In particular, there are some great guitar riffs that have great interplay with the vocal melody.
This album has some truly incredible writing as well, with sharp songwriter details that allow the songs to flow like stories, complemented by smooth and flowing melodies and rhythms that elevate the lyrics from simply being spoken-word poetry disguised as music to being a complete experience as the flow of the music often works directly in tandem with the lyrical material. Nesbitt’s ability to craft pathos out of both words and melody, along with restrained but tasteful production allowing the flow of words out of her evocative voice is really what makes this album worth listening to. In short: the album has some great vocal hooks, that hold equally quality verbal material. The best songs on the album have moments where the music always feels one step ahead of where it actually is, landing at the perfect time to accompany the lyrics.
Now, despite all this praise that I have for the album, much of that praise is directed at the singles, which make up half the album. In contrast, the entire back third of the album is markedly less impressive, both in terms of production, and, often, in terms of lyrical blend with the song. The last five songs on this album are produced by Peter “LOSTBOY” Rycroft, and are noticeably less strong than the rest of the album. Thematically, the last songs less cohesive, with less groove, swagger, and overall feel quite stiff. I’d attribute this to the fact that these songs are likely filler, made to make sure that the album was long enough to classify. Nevertheless, it’s always a pity to see clear signs of time constraints hurt a work of art. As an album experience, it certainly works, but it’s no rock opera that has the experience ruined if one doesn’t set aside an hour to appreciate the entire work as a cohesive whole.
The album leads off with Sacred, which is half soft, spare, and moody indie instrumental, half theme statement of the album. She complains about the fakeness of fame, and the desire for concreteness and stability in her life, as well as the with some choice and cutting words, as the song builds up to an electropop peak. It’s a song of release, and centres the album as one of reconciliation with her sense of self. On its own, it’s quite generic and not particularly impressive in terms of production or theme, but once again, it’s short and at the beginning of the album, so I give it a pass as an intro. Despite the griping about celebrity that the album kicks off with, much of the album is actually dedicated to the pitfalls of love, not an original theme for an album but a rich vein for material regardless, especially for a sophomore album coming out years after the first one.
The second song off the album, These Are The Moments I’m Missing, is the best-written of the songs, and is very Lorde-esque, with personal and poignant storytelling, accompanied by production that feels far bigger than it actually is. There is actually barely any heavy instrumental flare on this song, which does not stop it from feeling like a big song, largely due to the massive amounts of emotional weight that Nesbitt has in her voice, and the crisp production on the album that makes every loop feel like it is in the perfect section of the song. The wailing synth and the clicky drum pad are the perfect simple riffs for such an emotionally fraught song. What really sells this song is the sharp and touching story that Nesbitt tells about her history and her experiences with life and love. The intimacy of the lyrics, along with wordsmithing that fits seamlessly into the beat of flow of the melody fills the song with the pathos that is often what makes the best indie pop songs. The beginning of the second verse, for example, is able to evoke the feeling of a seedy club with nothing more than words and a spare backing track.
The Best You Had is the lead single of the album, and though it is less lyrically powerful than some of the other songs on the album, it is still solid, largely thanks to Nesbitt’s singing. The hook to this song is one hundred percent the lines where her voice starts off in the gravelly lower register and soars into the stratosphere before vanishing, all to a brisk syncopated pattern. This falsettoed ballad also lacks a good instrumental hook, but it doesn’t really need one. The soft piano chords and considered drum beat stay out of the way, which is likely for the best. The most interesting production effects are the tasteful filters and modulations to Nesbitt’s voice, which keeps the song interesting while amplifying the raw power of her voice. It’s the song that shows off her vocal range and strength, and that is what carries this song from mediocrity to being good.
Colder is like the song that it comes after, but is in almost every way better. It’s groovier, with fuller production that nonetheless allows her voice to shine through, and more emotionally expressively lyrics. It has harder drops, better soaring hooks, and a more interesting chorus. The piano and synths in this song sparkle, and the drums feel crisper and more in focus. The instrumentals almost threaten to overpower the vocals, which ironically makes the vocals feel more full as they actually feel supported. The soaring hooks are made even hookier with some mild compression, and the echoing and layering vocals build up to a crescendo that the last song lacked. By the end, this complex mash of sounds still works, largely thanks to the fact that it does build up to that moment so much. The prechorus has a groovy and smooth flow along with simple but no less powerful lyrics that leads into a heartbreakingly potent and rich chorus. Overall, it’s the best version of the electro-indie-pop sound that much of the album goes for.
Loyal To Me is the first of several guitar-driven songs on the album, and has a couple great guitar hooks, and generally great guitar work, that reminds me of some X-era Ed Sheeran. Though there’s a drum machine that plays through much of the song, the guitar is the primary instrumental focus. Lyrically, this song is cheesier than much of the rest of the album (if he ain’t tagging you on the ‘Gram?), especially given the quite bitter subject matter and vocal delivery. This song, and to a lesser extent Colder, has a New Rules-like lyrical vibe to it, with that sort of righteous anger against an occasional ex-lover. The greatest strength to this song is its groove, with the Latin guitar and the contrast between the rough, acidic, and stinging verses, soaring hooky prechorus, and staccato, punchy chorus. It has some great rhythms, emphasized well by the instrumental work, which has its fair share of great riffs as well. Overall, this song just flows so well amongst its various parts, that it never feels slow or boring, and is something that would surely be enjoyable to sing along to in an open-top convertible.
Somebody Special is a softer guitar-driven song, with less guitar emphasis, but with better lyrics, and more emotional weight behind Nesbitt’s voice. There’s also a great one-note hook in the chorus. There are some great lines in this song, that use some great metaphors and sharp songwriter storytelling details to paint the scene of the song to great effect. The verses are comforting, with a hint of spice, that gets kicked up a notch with the chorus dropping into a bassy drum beat and a sonar-like synth that is essentially a hook despite being almost just one note whenever it plays, while granting her high register singing even more power through reverb. It’s just a great sound effect that makes the chorus feel ethereal, in comparison to the grounded nature of the rest of the song, largely thanks to the guitar. The contrast between the two moods of the song, along with the smooth melody is ultimately what makes this song worth listening to.
Is It Really Me You’re Missing was originally written for Rihanna, and I’ll be honest, it’s not one of the better songs on the album. Nina Nesbitt’s singing is strong, as always, but a soft ballad with little in the way of interesting lyrics or hooks makes for a disappointing song. Generic platitudes about love and the grey area in a relationship do not make this song compelling, and neither does the production strategy of “nothing but piano chords”. There are barely any other instrumentals in the song, other than a somewhat grating synth that squeaks up high. The vocal flourishes also often seem poorly considered, as they will interject and cover the main vocal performance. There are no strong hooks, nor interesting melodic or rhythmic elements. For all intents and purposes, this song is another generic ballad of the type that every artist of sufficient fame has at some point in order to get onto the radio. The one saving grace of this song is Nesbitt’s great voice, and she really does go for it, especially in the highest and lowest part of her register, and layers a load of pathos into it, almost screaming at some moments, but compared to the rest of the album this song is ultimately a letdown.
Love Letter is the least indie of all of the songs on the album, with a sick guitar riff that I love, and that slaps you right in the face after a boring ballad to wake you right back up. Nesbitt puts some real grit into her voice, along with some strong vocal shots that punch hard. The chorus layers on top of that already great guitar riff some crisp trap drums, which creates some great harmonic complexity that is absent for much of the album. It all builds to a great pop crescendo that fades out quickly but not too quickly. Lyrically, this song is also great, although a lot harsher than much of the early album. It is a collection of gripes about a truly awful ex that Nesbitt spits out with such venom that it enhances the lyrics further, simply through delivery. This is probably not the best song on the album, but it is up there, and is my personal favourite.
Empire is the first of the songs that I feel like are filler, although this one is not that bad. It has some bubbly synths that are interesting, though not entirely in sync with the song. It also has some drums that are less crisp than much of the rest of the album, and that’s it. It builds up through adding more and more vocal elements throughout the song, which arguably bury Nesbitt’s singing more than in any previous song, not that the lyrical content in this song is particularly great. This song covers a theme that’s not been explored that much, of an artist’s desire for money and power. That’s not entirely fair, it’s also about hard work and what it takes to be successful. An interesting theme, no doubt, but a difficult one to handle. And saying “empire” over and over again certainly is not the level of writing required to tackle the topic effectively. It might be ironic, but I can’t safely assume that it is. Instead of the song feeling big with few elements, it feels lacking with too many elements. Also, the song abruptly cuts off, in such a strange way that the first time I heard it I wondered if the music was buffering. Overall, not a great song.
Chloe is a strange one. It’s partially written by LOSTBOY, and is partially, or maybe fully about someone else’s pregnancy. The lyrics are vague and don’t really say much, and not even in a way where they can be interpreted to have multiple meanings. It might also be about personal strife, but maybe not. That’s the first issue with this song: that it isn’t lyrically compelling. Production-wise, this song is really stiff. There’s a scraping instrumental in the background of the verses, with a nice but not particularly interesting mallet part in the background. It’s very psychedelic in the way in which it’s confusing instead of interesting. Meanwhile, the chorus attempts to sound big, with a lot of drums and interlaced flourishes, none of which work. Most of all, however, the song just goes on for too long with no interesting material. Much of Nesbitt’s singing here is bored and emotionless, with no interesting lyrics, instrumental shakeups, or rhythmic changes, to make the song worth listening to. This song is simply bad.
Things I Say When You Sleep is another ballad, and though this song has some decent lyrics, it doesn’t have the emotional weight to carry a ballad. In fact, this song might be too personal and specific to effectively be written as a ballad. There is just a guitar and synth playing chords in terms of instrumentation, as is often standard for a ballad. However, it never changes, so there’s no sort of interest there, to a frankly insulting degree. It *plunk* *plunk* *plunk*s away with a complete lack of any sort of modulation or passion. The instruments sound bored, if that’s even possible. Nina Nesbitt’s singing is good, but it also just doesn’t have any emotional weight to it to carry the ballad. It’s too soft and gentle, with not passion or edge to make one feel something. It’s Michael Bolton-esque, with none of of the charm. The melody also repeats several times, although at least it has some interesting modifications occasionally, mainly in the verses. It’s not nearly enough, but at least it’s something. Finally, the lyrics. They are sappy, deeply personal, and extremely mundane. They’re evocative, certainly, and paint a well-rounded picture of a relationship, but because it’s based on a specific person, there are some details that are so oddly specific it almost makes me laugh. The best example of this is the prechorus, “when I’m sad, my eyes run like streams/
but yours stay dry as you clench your teeth”. I’ll let it speak for itself.
Last December is another ballad, but this one’s got some nice guitar, and some more emotive singing, in a Lana Del Rey kind of way. It swells a lot more, so there’s dynamic changes, and there’s some somewhat clunky but ultimately positive use of reverb to enhance the song. The piano chords fade in and out and the guitar plays a nice, motionful melody, the singing’s more emotive and passionate, and it switches in and out of falsetto often, giving it a nice vibe. The chorus also has a different melodic line than the verses, and the music is actually given some room to breath. The most subtle difference between this song and the last are the lyrics. Here, the lyrics are still very specific, and often include the same details as it’s based off the same relationship, but the specific details are expressed emotionally rather than physically, making them more relatable and thus better for a ballad. It also chooses a specific emotion to express: happiness, which makes the tone of the song a lot less confused. This is probably the best of the LOSTBOY produced songs, and to be frank it’s pretty good.
The album concludes with the title track, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change. The biggest issue with this song is that it just doesn’t have enough. There’s touches of nice personal storytelling in the verses that are interesting but are not built up enough to evoke anything. It eventually devolves into endless repeats of the song title over and over again. The singing also has very little passion in it, and doesn’t stop the song from feeling limp. However, there’s plenty of good songs with less lyrical content and emotive singing from very lyrical artists. What makes this one go from possibly good to certainly mediocre is the utterly uninspired production in this song. The massive amounts of reverb make the song unpleasant to listen to, the most boring synth I have ever heard makes an appearance, and near the end the mass amounts of effects and accoutrements placed over the vocal melody makes it feel overbearing. The biggest error on this song, however, is the fact that the instrumentals do nothing interesting as Nina Nesbitt repeats the title, and much the same for the instrumental section. Instead of having an interesting synth solo or stripping it back for a solemn ending, the song just builds and builds with pointless and disjointed sounds until it all leaves and the song just…ends.
I’d love to give this album a higher score. I really do, and I think that there are some absolutely incredible songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a 10/10 album. There are songs that are groovy, smooth, evocative, and frankly, beautiful. But alas, I judge the album as a whole, and the bottom does fall out of the work at the end, and it ends on such a note as to make it hard to give it a perfect, or even great rating. Nevertheless, I would absolutely recommend this album to anyone who is a fan of indie pop, at least for the first 8 songs. See y’all next time!