Imagine a pastoral soundscape of colors and textures; folk melodies at once pleasing and which, a moment later, cut to quick, sharp guitars and singing viola and and just the hint of horns. Cian Nugent’s music has a natural inclination towards this ideal soundtrack to that trip into those foggy green meadows. Until now primarily on record as a guitarist and arranger of meticulous, building instrumentals, Night Fiction represents the Irish balladeer’s foray into (generally) concise, springy pop tunes, often with spirally, winding breaks amidst singing, blues guitar lines.
Now, this is not actually Cian’s (to friends, “Cian-O;” pronounced ‘Kee-an’) first at compositions which include vocal parts. Indeed, the final track produced in his discography of main albums prior to Night Fiction (2013’s Born With the Caul) features his wonderfully haunted vocalizations, drifting yet flowing along, as though magnetized.
So, as in all things, one simply can’t believe all of the hype surrounding Cian-O — “This is the emergence of Cian Nugent, singer/songwriter!” No, indeed: primarily this is a continuation of an already blooming talent of a guitarist whose work culls on the mastery of all the eminent dadrock heroes (Verlaine; Thompson; Garcia; Gilmour) but also patiently, lovingly sloths his tone and vision through winding passages of lovely arrangements, punctuated by pauses with Little Feat-like backbeats.
The change in pace that occurs on Night Fiction revolves primarily around the pitch in momentum of putting words to the lilting verse which the songwriter and his laid-back, crack-team of bummer folk accompanists The Cosmos, naturally paint with broad, deep and amber strokes. “Things Don’t Change That Fast” is an ideal example of this sort of pause – the breathy nature of the compositions that loll and roll like hillsides one could amble along for hours and days. With couplets such as “There may be only one difference / between the hopeless and the brave: / one’s too specific and the other’s too vague,” the steady motion of the album threatens to grind to a halt, but Nugent nudges it along with a pensive voice and steady guitar.
Thus far, this Irish guitarist and – seemingly more and more comfortable with the designation – singer/songwriter’s discography is a gumbo of many different genres, including power pop and guitar pyrotechnics with room and taste enough to visit and touch on the greatest of glammy theatrics. Nugent’s songwriting is certainly right there: an Irish cousin to the prolific, well-read, and generally groovy (and eclectic, and provocative) waves of American folknophilic adventures like Ty Segall with the guitar adventurousness of a Ben Chasny, Sir Richard Bishop, or even Steve Gunn.
Cian Nugent is cousin to all of these, but he’s doing it at his own pace. Night Fiction is a reflection of that wry, good-humored exuberance for the many worlds of music, folksy and solo American Prim, and freakout. It’s a wonderful development and produces yet another flower on the budding tree of a fantastic, worldly artist. The crystalline composition of “Lucy,” Nugent’s only acoustic instrumental of the album, hearkens to that plateau, worked towards by way of years of fine musical craftsmanship, whose art flows and breathes as naturally as it jars and grooves listeners.
It’s an exuberance that makes itself heard on this album, foiled by an excellent backing band, and is marked not only by quiet, transcendental bouts of moody and meditative guitar/viola/organ vamps, but by the boiling points at which the joy of Nugent’s music manifest in hollers and shouts; in rolling conversation with his crack rhythm team; in the electric freakouts. This Irish cat is making some of the best American music out there today. To that end, as an exercise in reverence and post-traditionalism Night Fiction is breathtaking, grooving, and flat-out joyful.