I Can Feel the Night Around Me, the third album from Philadelphia's Nightlands, showcases Dave Hartley's finely tuned ability to layer his voice and conjure some of the most beautiful and elaborate virtual choirs in modern music. If his first two records were vocal layering experiments, his third stands as Hartley's thesis statement: "I was determined to use vocal stacking to enable my songwriting, not shroud or obscure it."
He recorded most of the album alone in a cold warehouse basement, which he affectionately calls The Space -- it's where The War on Drugs (of whom Hartley has been a core member for the past decade) formerly rehearsed and stored their equipment. "The dissonance between the sound of the album and the atmosphere in which it was recorded is pretty striking," Hartley says. Indeed the music seems more geographically inspired by the microclimates of the Lost Coast and the moonrises of Big Sur than the post-industrial cityscape of North Philadelphia. Perhaps his periodic westward sojourns and healthy obsessions with mid-career Beach Boys albums and Denis Johnson's Already Dead: A California Gothic were influencing him more than he was aware.
The son of a genetic engineer, Dave Hartley has eschewed his father's profession but decidedly inherited his analytical proclivities and love of "the lab." As Nightlands, Hartley is a scientist trying to create and understand art through analytical process. Here, with sophomore album Oak Island, his follow up to 2010's superb Forget the Mantra, new questions are explored: what happens when the human voice is layered exponentially? Nightlands takes us on a spirit quest through lush forests down into The Uncanny Valley. Each distorted, silver-voiced melody is wrapped in the sounds of 70s AM gold — plucked acoustic guitars, trumpets, dulcimers and hand percussion. Hartley is a prolific sideman in many notable Philadelphia bands and the extraordinary bassist of The War on Drugs. Listeners expecting a simple side project, however, will be surprised by the boldness and scope of his vision--Nightlands is the Chuck Close painting to the The War on Drugs' De Kooning.
Nightlands is the recording project of Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Dave Hartley. The music he creates in his bedroom is itself a bed of delicate, chiming strings and bubbling synths beneath a blanket of choral vocal arrangements. It's dreamy in the literal sense — the seeds for the album were sown when Hartley began archiving musical ideas that occurred in his sleep with a simple bedside tape recorder. As a result his debut album Forget the Mantra is, in essence, a field recording of Hartley's dreams — a travel journal through pop music and a collection of psych-hymns from the first human lunar colony. The songs sound both huge and intimate, breathy and cavernous like massive echoes of a faraway concert. It's the big, shadow music from just across the lake.
The album deals with themes of anxiety, fear and the limits of concentration. Therein, it mines Hartley's personal history as often as it does influences The Beach Boys, The Traveling Wilburys and Hawkwind. Side A pulses with layers of tom tom drums on wide-open standout slow jam "300 Clouds" and nimbly-picked acoustic melodies on "Suzerain (A Letter to the Judge)," like Crosby, Stills & Nash gone comsic-kraut. The songs roll and gallop then stop to breathe, always exhaling with what sounds like a thousand voices. Through its experimental back half — reminiscent of Bowie's Low or Kate Bush's "The Ninth Wave" from Hounds of Love — full of vocal samples from Hartley's real life, the more pop-leaning front end is given greater context, like a close study of a plant's blossom before traveling down through its root architecture.
Hartley, who for years has been a prolific sideman in many Philadelphia ensembles (most notably The War on Drugs), laid these songs to tape on a Tascam 388 insularly over several months, inviting friends along for feedback and ultimately, some additional tracking.
"There are degrees of warmth...and Philadelphia musician Dave Hartley's Nightlands project sounds like it was recorded in a hearth...Hartley's music seeps out and fills spaces, combining the kind of expansive resonance found in Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs with Beach Boys-like vocal arrangements..." - Pitchfork
Nightlands' David Hartley is in the creative pocket at the moment. On the heels of his lovely Secretly Canadian debut, Forget the Mantra, and at the precipice of Nightlands first-ever live engagements, Hartley gives us the All The Way 7". It's Forget the Mantra's strange lil' bro, doing all sorts of interesting, unknowable shit in his room all night long.
"All The Way" is an ode to pain and reinvention, a joyful noise about hopelessness. Written, recorded and mixed in one day. Like Jeff Lynne floating down Billy Joel's River of Dreams on a drone raft. It's flipside, "Buggin Out," absolutely comes from an obsession with Bo Hansson's Lord of the Rings (1970), the epic Swedish instrumental masterpiece. The skeleton of the track was played live on Hartley's Hammond 144, originally clocking in at almost 16 minutes of synth/organ madness. After some Casio/Korg overdubbing, the piece was chopped to the still-epic, seizure-enducing 6 minutes we have before us.