Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
I try not to throw around the word haunting too much when reviewing an album as over-usage of this common catch-all has the effect of diluting all of its deeper meaning. So when I have little recourse but to refer back to this adjective it’s only for the best reasons. Here it can be summed as the base experience you get listening to the debut of Norfolk-native, Reuben Hollebon.
With a long history of working behind-the-scenes in the industry as a recording engineer, Hollebon’s debut, Terminal Nostalgia naturally has all the inspired elegance of an artist stepping into the prime of their career. It’s unpretentious and confident even if the confidence presents itself as something unsettling and dark. Throughout the twelve tracks Hollebon gives us there’s a dedication to the uncanny, something almost Freudian in its profundity. The stamp of success to this debut lies in his method of transcribing the uncanny into something crushingly beautiful as both vocals and acoustics are given equal footing in realizing that goal.
Given that balance, on paper it would be easy to write off Hollebon as just another singer-songwriter dabbling in the darker arts of folk. And while he does indeed dabble on Nostalgia, there’s an ever-present brooding intensity, a trait broadly indicative of post-punk. Aural murals depicting quiet desolation through ambient soundscapes would also set the debut up as something of an homage, intentional or not, to the downtempo IDM of Boards of Canada in their heyday.
Through all of this, the arrangement of the tracks themselves is simple enough if deceivingly so. “Fields, For Fields” gives out a sampling of Hollebon’s cracked and whispery vocals accompanied by a constant drone. Standouts like “Before the Flood” build upon that same structure, surrounding in with multi-layered acoustic guitar that furthers a consistent sense of constriction and claustrophobia peppered throughout both the album and the imagery associated with it.
The three videos preceding the release of Nostalgia give more clarity to the themes of disaffected youth (“Haystacks”), taboo relations (“Faces”), and reflections of the afterlife (“Common Table”) that Hollebon has imbued into his creation. “Haystacks” sees the artist at his most sinister. Rhythmic and moody acoustic guitar is laid against the wind-up of Hollebon’s vocals, which tells of a mischievous boy unable to shake off his habits as an adult. Meanwhile “Faces” takes darker turns still, exploring the passion and inherent danger of masochistic behaviour.
Yet in “Common Table” there’s a self-reflecting sort of melancholia, almost fatalistic in its effect. Here Hollebon’s voice is much removed from the brittle falsetto touted in previous tracks. Echoey and multi-layered, his vocals are deeper here, more wizened. The track itself is comfortable accepting it’s place as the most inviting of anything the debut has to offer. Warm guitars and the rich poetics espousing the ponderous topics of friendship and whatever may lie beyond the pale both take turns at this But if anything Nostalgia was not constructed with comfort in mind. Instead it links back to the Freudian perception of the uncanny; taking us away from the familiar and pushing us toward the unknown.