Night Fiction is Dubliner Cian Nugent’s third album; on previous instrumental releases he has shown himself to be a prodigious guitarist and composer, but this record sees Nugent’s vocal chops come to the fore. His sound tips its hat to world folk music, including African folk; one of the continents great musical exports, Ali Farka Touré’s guitar playing is a good reference point. Psych rock could also be cited as an influence, and as such his songs often have a hypnotic quality which allows you to immerse yourself in the detail.
On ‘Lost Your Way’ guitar lines dance along whilst Nugent’s voice crackles with warmth. Vocals are drenched in reverb and sung with a self-assured swagger on ‘First Run’ – “Call me your monkey-boy, call me the breeze/Call me the everlasting son, call me weak at the knees.” One of Nugent’s great strengths perhaps stems from his instrumental work and his his ability to compose songs. There’s a thoughtfulness and attention to detail that has gone into crafting each track on the album; which makes every word sung, each chord progression and note played feel like its serving a purpose. In less capable hands that could lead to a clinical sounding album, but Nugent and his backing band always seem to find the right balance, allowing each song to breathe. Shadows is perhaps the song most akin to that of previous output with a slow build as instruments fade in and out, and as with most songs on the album the lyrics are open to interpretation.
‘Things Don’t Change That Fast’ and ‘Night Life’ take you on a journey; the kind of songs that cradle you after a night of excess. “Watching the stars fading, from my position where I lay/give me some time, cause I need to feel revived, give me a moment today.” Ireland’s answer to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ (in sound, not subject) comes in the form of ‘Year of the Snake’; an innocuous instrumental first half lulls the listener in, leading to an exhilarating collision of instruments with each player daring the other to keep pace as the song careens out of control by the end – it’s the ultimate set-closer.
When playing with The Cosmos grand compositions were built upon layers of instrumentation; on Night Fiction certain songs have been scaled-down, but they have lost none of their majesty. The interplay between guitar, piano, brass and percussion is outstanding at times.
Spacious Instrumentals are still on display, but with this album Nugent has shown his versatility as a songwriter by blending these grander compositions, with shorter (‘Lucy’), punchier (‘First Run’), and combative (‘Year of the Snake’) songs to produce a well-rounded record; and with it he has thrown down a marker. He must surely be posited amongst the most exciting talents Ireland has produced in quite some time. We’re one month into 2016, but come December, I think we’ll be talking about Night Fiction as one of the records of the year. Garrett Hargan