Nightbird Casino evokes a haunted, retro-futuristic ethos on the mysterious journey of “Russian Carpet”. For their new album, they have expanded beyond the core members of James Moore and Don Shepherd. This album features the stunning addition of Amanda Moore on keyboards and ondes Martenot, Oliver Orion on drums, and Patrick Manville on bass. Inclusion of the new members results in a restrained form of group play. For one, the rhythm section packs a considerable punch, for Oliver and Patrick work in unison to build up the rather physical grooves. Through this looser approach, the organic nature of the sound becomes clearer, even intimate at times. Amanda Moore proves to be essential, for her keyboard work, alongside the work with the much more obscure ondes Martenot truly flesh out the spirit of the album. Those unaware of the ondes Martenot, it is a rather cryptic instrument that gives off an eerie glow and yes, I did actually need to look it up, as I myself am fairly unfamiliar with it.
Radical combinations of genres are done with such dignity. Dance rock, early aughts anguished indie rock, drone, classical, psychedelic, and most prominently, a rather overlooked yet highly influential genre – hauntology. It is the latter one of these that helps to frame the rest. Akin to an obsession with the future that long-forgotten car fins had in the 50s, only for that optimism to reconfigure itself into quirky nostalgia, Nightbird Casino does a very similar thing within their sound. While there are critical classical elements to it, they are of a more modern-facing, experimental nature whereas the electronic elements have the older, more ancient hue. By flipping these two around, the more modern the device, the seemingly more yellowed with time it is.
They explore roads less traveled, with references ranging from baroque dancefloor legends Daft Punk to the unusually sensitive sounds of Olivier Messiaen. With a clear fondness for the brooding ways of early Interpol, most noticeably experienced on “Clown Toads”, they have maintained their trademark darkness. Alongside this approach is a tension, a rural psychedelic cadence that brings to mind a bit of Women’s modus operandi. By referencing the surprisingly old genre of dance rock (please do not remind me how old the genre actually is) they are able to sort of find that same kind of duality – a sound that at the time was future-facing but now feels shockingly quaint, even charming, akin to visiting an old friend after many years. A whole series of clever patterns are arranged in these unique ways, and they have no problem occasionally tearing the sound asunder to reconfigure however they see fit.
“Intro” opens the album up with a long-lost BBC Radio Workshop ethos to it, setting the tone for the heaviness that follows. Upon that short introduction, things start up in earnest on the spaciousness of “Clown Toads”. Like a gothic dance, “Clown Toads” features phenomenal grooves that feel endless. Delirious with its surreal nature “The Squid” moves forward at a slow steady pace, always seemingly expanding into an unknowably vast space, for their vocals have a world-weariness to them. Narratives emerge within this trip, as the verses are sculpted with such care. Like Max Richter gone post punk is the tortured soul of “Scarlett” for they bring a desire, a longing into the mix. Sly beats give “The Town” a ghostly jazz cadence to it. “The Town” actually touches on June of 44’s demented post-rock neurosis. On “Cascades” they bring a ritualistic mysticism into the atmosphere, for theirs brings to mind some of Velvet Underground’s decadent, transgressive impulses.
An entire universe gets conjured up on the singular stripped-down essence of “Aubrey”. The fake-out beginning leads to a much heavier sound later on, as the gloom of the work is perfectly embodied by the forlorn bass work. Keyboards gain a swirling, dazzling display on the Byzantine nature of “Hourglass I” which seemingly dilates time down into nothing, as the languid pace of the track further adds to this sense of uncertainty. Piano within this track further emphasizes the disoriented quality of the melody, barely able to keep itself up as it drifts off into dreamland. Rather catchy “Catharsis Train” has a late 80s long lost classic aspect to it, for there is a Sonic Youth Daydream Nation aura to it, from the vocals to the wormy way the piece evolves. Stripping things down to the essentials is the misty vapors of “London” with the song existing in a fog of sorts. Clever incorporation of echoed-out effects makes “Iquitos” a rather beautiful proposition, as the many different layers bounce off each other in slow motion. Stately piano work finishes off the Hourglass series with “Hourglass II” for their impressionistic piano playing has a Harold Budd shoegaze bliss aspect to it, almost consciousness but not quite, stumbling in the dark with the effects on the edges giving it a haunted ghostly aspect. Easily the highlight of the album and tying all of it together comes from the slinky sounds of “Nordic Retreat”. A truly stunning finale, “Nordic Retreat” draws from German komische music as well as mid-90s post-rave, for the references to Future Sound of London’s “Lifeforms” album feels unavoidable, as they too find the sound out of the sonic ether. Evolution of the work adds to its alure, for they constantly surprise the listener by adding in a whole slew of approaches, ones that skitter out into the infinite, unrestrained by anything. For an album as nebulous as this, it is rather remarkable that the manage to summarize all that came before it in a way that feels quite memorable.
By possessing so many references pointing to the past, present, and future without neatly falling into any, Nightbird Casino creates an experience that completely distorts time with “Russian Carpet”. Every one of these tracks possesses their own story and mystery behind it, whether said or left unsaid, in a way that few bands are able to pull off.