Thursday, February 28, 2019

Nalani Proctor - Nothing

As a singer-songwriter, I know how hard it is to carve out a niche that is uniquely you—especially when you’re doing it all on your own. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone singing their guts out while strumming an acoustic guitar; for a lot of musicians, these are their only tools for performance. And there’s nothing more DIY than using what little you have to make a lot.

Yet it’s surprising how when these same singer-songwriters are given the means to expand their recordings beyond their live sound, so many of them squander the opportunity. Rather than risk a new or bold arrangement to bring new life to a song, they stick to their safety sound, maybe slapping a little keyboard or accent strings in a few places and calling it a day. Part of the beauty of being a solo artist is embracing the inherent autonomy provided by not having to play along with anyone else. It’s an idea so many artists are afraid to explore, but Nalani Proctor embodies this ideal wholeheartedly on their latest LP Nothing.

From my first listen, it became terribly clear just how personal of a record Nothing is, and just how much went into shaping it. Each of the eleven tracks features a wholly unique arrangement, tailored to the song’s energy and emotional content. The ukulele strumming through “Go To Sleep” lulls along with a string section and a distant horn, while “Every Little Morning” contrasts a sulky acoustic guitar with a growling distorted synth. “Opinions” starts with a whisper of guitar and programming before culminating in a burst of thumping drums and grinding distortion. And though each song almost strives to sound different from its bedfellows, they are all anchored together by Nalani’s graceful and emphatic vocals.

Nalani Proctor has a fearlessness pervading each song on Nothing; every decision and performance is severely confident without sacrificing truth. To me, this is no more apparent than in “The Fool,” a ballad with sharpened claws. The instrumentation is driven by a piano and string arrangement, the band rising and falling like gentle waves. Yet Nalani’s vocal on the track is anything but tender. The melody seems sung almost through clenched teeth, admonitions delivered with restraint towards the “champion of silence.” Each word hovers just beyond patience, each syllable tinged with frustration yet delivered with powerful honesty. “The Fool” places elegance against exasperation in perfect harmony, combining them into one of the most painfully truthful and fierce pieces I’ve heard in a long while.

For an album bearing the title Nothing, there sure is a hell of a lot here to unpack and enjoy. Nalani Proctor’s music turns composition into a weapon, sharpening each song to a distinctive point that cuts right to the heart of the matter. Nothing shows a singer-songwriter really exploring the depths of opportunity inherent in their own music, bringing each piece to its full potential using arrangement and composition. It’s ambitious, audacious even, but even more so fearless, and that above all else is what listeners are going to hear, and love.

My Top Track: "Opinions"

You can find more from Nalani, including upcoming shows and news, at Then head over to Spotify to stream Nothing, or grab your own copy on Bandcamp.

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