Katie here, and guys, it’s finally happening. Finally, I have an organic way to remind you guys (pardon me, Y’ALL) that I’m Texan—because today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the beautiful, diverse sounds of Those Nights, a band from deep in the heart of Austin, Texas. Those Nights is made up of four musicians who all write, which leads to each track having a unique fingerprint despite the tightness and unity of the music itself. For those of you who like any of the Baraboo, Wisconsin scene (Phox, Bon Iver, Foreign Fields), they’re going to be a must-see—but also, for anyone who loves the larger soundscape of instrumentation that musicians like Okkervil River and Pete Yorn are able to create will fall in love, too. In fact, Those Nights have played with both Phox and Pete Yorn, which I think showcases their versatility—and that’s before I even mentioned they have a saxophonist.
Their latest and third record, Fine Line, starts off with a song called “Head Over Heels,” which is a little bit like being resuscitated: the big flourish at the beginning drops out to allow the vocals to fill in space. The whole track is like taking deep breaths, actually: pushing the music as far as it can go and then pulling back to allow pushing the lyrics harder. It’s a phenomenal technique, and leads to great lyrical moments like:
You can go now, follow me, follow me,
Home now, won’t you pull away from the friends
That you rode with? They won’t get mad
They understand attraction when it’s natural
That entire opening stanza is sung against a background of drumsticks hitting each other, but then the electric guitar and the rest of the instruments fill in the space, and it just feels like falling in love, heartbeat pulsing, quicker, quicker—slowed down only by an occasional refrain, “Follow me, follow me home.” This isn’t a one night stand, though: “Give me your heart... I’ll be head over heels, head over heels.” It’s a bold move to start a record with a song so unabashedly loving and vulnerable: the vocals lean into the vulnerability and the pleading, as well, which gives it an urgent feel that kicks the record off on the right foot.
But then you have songs like “Same Song,” which is channeling some of the darkness of ‘70s Fleetwood Mac—the backing vocals feel like the ghosts of “The Chain” come back to tell a new story. The pathos and emotion in the primary vocals is something else, too—I’m a lyrics oriented writer, but the depth in the music here is exceptional. Even the drumming takes center stage at several points. The music changes tone and winds its way through different movements, all of which will evoke both classic rock and contemporary artists.
That’s not to say I don’t love the lyrics. I can’t resist any song with lines like:
We sing the same song, never really knowing that the lyrics are wrong
It’s a crying shame, but I’m optimistic all the same
With every step we take, we learn not to fall
But sometimes it’s hard to walk, and you would rather crawl
It’s a universal feeling
It’s collective, if you will
But the drug that I’m on is one for the soul
And it doesn’t come as a pill
Something about trying to find ways to connect, ways to soothe souls, ways to honor the humanity we see in each other—but against a dark, minor key background with up-tempo and sometimes aggressive drums—is absolutely stunning. It takes it to a different level. It’s almost like the lyrics and the mood of the music are fighting to see which side is going to win—communication and learning to love each other as we are, or continuing to sing the wrong lyrics to and at each other.
Their earlier records play clever games, too: on their self-titled record, they have a track called “The Rich Get Richer,” which is followed by “The Poor Play Music.” They have a handle on how to have fun with the music as well. On songs like “Pros and Cons,” the saxophone sets a boozy tone to start off, and invites a completely different attitude—in fact, some of the song is actually rapped. And it’s awesome.
I was taught when I was little to find the edge pieces of a puzzle before attempting to put the middle together, but you almost can’t do that with Those Nights. There’s not really an “edge”—they are willing to dive into any type of music they are interested in. The song that follows “Pros and Cons” is a sweet, slow love song, where the saxophone is playful instead of atmospheric. So how does all of this fit together?
The same way everything at Underwater Sunshine Fest fits together: it’s all excellent, from the melody, to the vocals, to the instrumentation, to the lyrics. Those Nights have found that there is room to experiment within the bounds of “excellence,” and I cannot wait to see how they structure a live set, but I luckily don’t have to wait very long. See you in October—less than a month away now!