words by tom johnson
Perhaps the strength of any scene lies in its ability to continue to grow and flourish on its own terms, while also quietly spreading further from its epicentre, weaving its way into the lives of new listeners, near and far, far, far. Centred around, but not limited to, our friends over at Sooper Records, one such collective can currently be found in Chicago, uniting the likes of Seth Engel (Options), Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Sen Morimoto and many more, all of whom are conducted here under the keen eye of Mike Walker, who brings them (and more) together for an inspired new record under his Nature’s Neighbor moniker.
Both charmingly sprawling and acutely nuanced, the new ‘Ur’ LP features ten songs that reflect a myriad of influences, from straight-up indie rock, through prog, shoegaze, and bright(er) moments of exquisite prettiness. Like a journey stretching through brand new pastures, the whole thing manages to feel both alien but completely captivating, folding in on itself then suddenly expanding once more as the whole thing rolls on and on, through each climb and decline, through light and dark.
As a nine-minute centrepiece ‘Gilgamesh‘ could have unsettled the balance but it actually offers something of a subdued stretch of reflection, while tracks like ‘Esper (灵)‘ and ‘Zhuan Yuo (转悠转悠)‘ are decidedly more playful and inventive, lightening and heightening the prevailing mood, lending a sense of restless invention to a record that binds together all manner of instrumentation (piano, guitar, drums, synths, bassoon, flute, vibraphone, xylophone – you name it, it’s probably here somewhere) but never once feels over-complicated, never once loses sight of its final destination.
And it’s this that makes it such a rewarding listen. While the whole thing could quite conceivably have disappeared down a rabbit-hole of over-indulgence, it instead finds a place for itself somewhere in the in between; a little glimpse of shadowed, hushed magic in the cold grey light of the real world. So strap yourself in and enjoy the ride; it’s streaming in full below right now, and available to pre-order right here.