Nightbird Casino delivery a beguiling album with Gregorian Nap, blending avant-garde and pop, high-art with lo-fi aesthetics. The duo of James Moore and Don Shepard work in unison to deliver a stark, unforgettable series of narratives, spoken and left unspoken. It is a testament to their versatility that they sound far larger than the average duo, thanks to their incredible array of instruments that they filter in and out of the mix. Quite unusual is the album that can conjure up a mantra of “Pineapple Triangles” alongside the cinematic Vangelis-like flair of “Cotopaxi”, yet here it is. Everything within the album simply works for there is a sense of rising and falling action that they impose upon these pieces lending them a living, breathing quality.
Stylistically they forgo any pigeonholing. The lo-fi aesthetic ties these works together as they incorporate brooding post-punk alongside industrial-edged surf rock, doing it with ease. Rhythm here appears to be particularly important, as the guitar and bass work are incredible. At times they blend together to become a singular pulsing groove, one that deserves as much volume as it can possibly be given. Hooks appear in the most unexpected places, as their ability to surprise remains constant throughout. They never play it safe during the album and this gives it a sort of “played live” quality to it, like it was specifically designed for a vast space. Part of this comes from the way they simply let loose on occasion, like on the percussive opening of “Pole Line Road” before softening the sound with rather angular guitar.
Experimental to their very core they defy the norms. This is not simply experimentation for experimentation’s sake however it is imbued with a very real emotional core. Over the album they bring in poetic lyricism that celebrates the unexpected twists of the instrumentation. Much of the album has an aching yearning for an absolute freedom. Sometimes this is stated quite explicitly such as on the commanding “Gazelles” but other times it is subtler such as on the title track “Gregorian Nap” where they let the tension build almost until the breaking point.
Iconoclastic influences abound throughout the journey. Their ability to fuse electronics with folk recalls Jon Hassell’s experiments in “Fourth World” music. For their more brooding elements they touch upon the grace of Joy Division’s regal processions. Occasionally playful they sometimes even go for the funky sound of the B-52s which brings some light into the proceedings. King Krule’s “The OOZ” also appears to have influenced their dark, deranged descents into surf rock with an edge alongside their oftentimes surreal stream of consciousness lyricism that adorns many of the pieces.
Woozy with its studio field recordings, “Gazelles” opens the album up with an almost debauched air. The vast space unfolds as lyrics explore a simultaneous sense of oppression alongside a challenge to find one’s own freedom. Nicely embodying a bleary Californian coastal spirit are the driving rhythms of “Pole Line Road”. Here the little details matter a great deal for the way the track seems to travel up and down hills feels liberating. A bit of joy with the theremin results in the reflective, stripped-down soul of “Symmetrical Electrical” where their voices do at times seem to merge into that blissful art pop Gregorian chant of the Beach Boys gone gothic. Nods to a long-lost post punk dance pop emerges on “Amuse Bouche”. Bossa Nova a la Antenna comes into focus on the limber “The Mains”. Here their ability to expand and elaborate upon the original theme helps to further cement its jazzy affect. Completely letting loose with a two-prolonged attack of the bass and guitar comes the absurdist “Pineapple Triangles!”. Totally bonkers, the galloping drums alongside the unhinged shouted mantra feels akin to witnessing a gleeful initiation ritual.
Electric static hiss adds to the interrupted ambience of “1st Crystallization”. Tension-filled, the piece has a churning, hypnotic groove that anchors it in place. True grandeur that recalls John Cale’s most austere pieces takes shape with the expansive, elaborate patterns of “Cotopaxi”. Here the elements of Fourth World Music become crystal clear, as elements seem to blend multiple styles and origins into a singular whole. Haunted keyboards come into bloom on the delicate “Gregorian Nap” where the vocals have a deep, resonant quality to them. Little details matter a great deal as they bring elements of foreshadowing into the mix helping to give it a kaleidoscopic array of colors. A Tom Waits like demeanors raises a glass in the wonderful narrative of “The Chemicalist”. Incredible interplay makes “Birmingham” the album highlight and its true heart. Here they bring so much into the fray from the fanfare to the fragile riffs that nicely highlight the vulnerability of that basest impulse and how it can be easy to give in. Later on, when the horns pick up on that original guitar phrase just feels right, like a full circle. Piano verging on a Charlemagne Palestine droning gives “Real Quiet Hours” a contemplative tact. The hesitant percussion that skitters overhead lends the track a gritty, raw take. Horn here goes for a mournfulness that perfectly evolves into far-off bagpipes playing. By far the most ambitious piece comes from the multi-suite finale of “Vy Canis Majoris”. Within this work they deliver their most psychedelic impulse. Steady rhythm helps to center the whole of the piece as the vocals have a voyeuristic quality to them. How they turn this around on the protagonist gives it a weird wild animalistic flavor to all of it. Building the tension up feels rather lovely, as it delves into a half-forgotten dreamworld, one that revels in the smallest of details for maximum impact.
A wonderful album to get lost in, “Gregorian Nap” has a timeless quality to it displaying the impressive vivid imagery that Nightbird Casino conjures with ease. Even the album title seems to reflect upon their lo-fi yet high art premise – one that feigns to be a slacker while delivering something startlingly unique.