Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
You’re unlikely to come across anyone quite like Nathaniel Rateliff. At least not now. The self-titled debut of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats is a unexpected turn for the impossibly broad spectrum of indie rock, one that pays homage to its roots in soul and R&B. Comparisons to the godfathers of soul, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding are apparent from the start even down to the perceived quality of the recording. There’s a vintage sound within the album, one that includes the fuzz and imperfections of a 60s or 70s recording studio. And while it’s easy to mark this off as gimmicky, the resulting 11-tracks are anything but.
It all starts with the opener of “I Never Need Get Old”, which introduces a full-bodied instrumentation topped off with the signature flamboyance of a horn section. Things slow down to a steadier pace on “Howling at Nothing” reminding me immediately of something I would have heard on an oldies station during an impossibly long road-trip in my childhood. Each note down to the warble of the guitar and the addition of the saloon piano on “I’ve Been Failing” is packed with reverential nostalgia, not to mention the echoey vocals of Rateliff himself.
The eventual arrival of “S.O.B.” is unsurprisingly the obvious takeaway from the album but for good reason. Looking past its well trafficked circuit online and most recently, The Tonight Show, “S.O.B.”’s claim to brilliance remains the punch-in-your-gut effect of its refrain. The minimal introduction, including a humming gospel-like rhythm complete with the exuberance of claps and feet stomping does not do well enough to prepare you for Rateliff’s excited shout to kick things off.
Post-“S.O.B.” includes a blend of styles and sounds not entirely characteristic of the blue-eyed soul that came before. Some of these work well, others not so much. The immediate follow-up of “Wasting Time” is a crooning country ballad. It’s an appropriate if expected follow-up to the fast-paced charge of its predecessor but fails to do much more than fill up a few sweet minutes before the pace quickens once again. “Thank You” is a similarly unremarkable addition that is outdone before the more inspired additions earlier in the album. The second to last track, “I’d Be Waiting” is where things begin to shine once more. It strips down the wall of sound that had become so distinctive in place of Rateliff’s front-and-center vocals alongside the steady strum of the guitar. The lyrics are sentimental as might be expected from the title but not gushingly so, making this one of the few tracks where things are somewhat more restrained.
As a whole you’re unlikely to find anything quite like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. It’s something that bears repeating as the spectrum of indie music seems to be ready to plateau at any moment. This album hopes to blow such an opinion out of the water and does so with style.