Written by: Dave Cantrell
Feeling both ahead and behind a schedule that in large part doesn’t even exist – for this writer, never has the title of Elvis Costello’s “Man Out of Time” felt more accurate – we here at Stereo Embers, like most of you we suspect, are playing a random, scattershot version of catch-as-catch-can when it comes to, well, life in general but more specifically in our case, album reviews.
Now, to be honest, that’s not exactly a status that requires the calendar-shredding effect of a shelter-in-place lockdown for us to find ourselves in – albums arrive amidst enough of a swirl in ‘normal’ life to make decent coverage a challenge – but from what we’ve been able to tell, nearly everyone finds themselves, in their own way, seized by the paralysis of an enforced immobility. Stated in “Wizard of Oz” terms, that tornado that displaced our dear Dorothy is, in our current pandemic context, fueled by the fierce winds of nothingness that keep dropping us into the dry barren fields of a place called Anomie.
But really, enough is enough, the time has come to rally, shake off our torpor, gather our wits and words about us and get to it. Welcome, then, to Quarantine Age Kicks, where your correspondent is metaphorically (and to some extent literally) locked in a room with just himself and his thoughts on a stack of recent and/or upcoming releases. Which also, come to think of it, doesn’t sound so different from how it’s ever been but oh my hell is it different, so SO different. Anyway, if you would, have a read, give a listen, support the artists when able. Thank you.
Nick Kizirnis “The Distance” on Atom Records (released May 15, 2020)
So okay, we suppose Dayton OH, despite and/or because of it being GBV’s operational home base, is as close as anywhere to being the literal heart of the US heartland, but even that given didn’t prepare us for how this immersive, unassumingly sumptuous album from one of that city’s most loyal sons evinces with its every vibe the land from which it comes. Not to put too fine a point on it, The Distance is, in a phrase, a quintessential American record.
Known over the past three decades, via both his solo records and his work with Tobin Sprout, the Mulchmen, and Cage, as a guitarist and songwriter adept at bending – and blending – genres to his will, Nick Kizirnis on his latest appears to be relying more deeply, almost exclusively, on the glow of an interior source and as a result the songs, thus lit, give off a unique strength, feeling both calmer and more intense. While to no small extent the beguiling groundedness of this album’s sound is down to those chosen to help shape it – foremost of which may well have been enlisting of Lung‘s Kate Wakefield to sing Kizirnis’s lyrics – it is, at the core, the songwriterly essence that shines most brilliantly.
Honest, though with no need to be bruisingly so, songs such as the aptly-titled opener “The Beginning,” a dark sad dissection of a romance curling inexorably in on itself, the mournfully steady title track that finds the guitarist channeling Dave Gilmour (circa, say, Wish You Were Here) had he been raised in Nashville, the chipper avant-country pop of “You Said Goodbye,” all light gallop and flangeing electric guitar inflections, the irresistible tearjerker bliss of instant classic “Someone,” clear through to “Take It With Me,” a kind of countrified acoustic madrigal that brings us out, show us an artist at that poignant peak of form where life’s hard lessons and even harder-won wisdom can’t help but flow straight from the pen to the charts worked up at the sessions.
Considering the bluesy romp of “Trail of Tears” followed immediately by the Neil Young-ish “Fading Away” near the album’s end, The Distance overall may betray many of the hallmarks of a breakup album (though, granted, there’s every chance that pretty much everything is sounding that way to us right now), but if it is, it’s one watched over by a host of weeping angels casting like spells upon the proceedings the odd taste of sweetness that lies at the heart of sorrow. It is, in short, a special record. Seek it out.