Cian Nugent

Night Fiction

Woodsist

Feb 22, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Extended periods of silence have been known to do strange things to people. A long spell without speech has the power to drive an individual to a word-drunk eruption of over-sharing. Conversely, it can transform a person into a Paris, Texas-esque husk of a human being, directionless and no longer capable of expressing oneself in any meaningful way. Thankfully, in the case of Irish guitarist Cian Nugent, a prolonged voiceless state has forged him into a storyteller with plenty to say and the patience to say it with the utmost economy.

To back up a bit, Nugent hasn't been through a literal term of silence; rather, as a solo artist and with his band The Cosmos, he's helmed numerous instrumental albums which meld traditional folk, dense psychedelia, and countless other styles into a heady yet visceral brew. Though he briefly lent his vocals to the fine 2013 effort Born with the Caul, Night Fiction marks his proper debut as a singer/songwriter.

His technical chordal mastery has rightfully earned comparisons to Richard Thompson and John Fahey, while Steve Gunn's guitar virtuoso-turned-troubadour trajectory provides a contemporary parallel (Gunn and Nugent have also played together in the outfit Desert Heat). As a songwriter, Nugent can see every side of a single problem, but he possesses enough wisdom to refrain from getting too worked up about anything in particular. He favors an off-handed, unfussy approach to vocals, as befits his convincingly seen-it-all demeanor.

Despite the amount of single lines and couplets that stand out, Nugent's words don't sound like stray thoughts plucked from a journal. These maxims are straightforward enough to snag you on first listen, but gather the weight of truth with subsequent plays ("Privacy must be the greatest form of pride/But who here has nothing that they want to hide?" is a conundrum from the sterling rocker "First Run" that sticks to the brainpan with particular stubbornness).

Night Fiction's meditations don't have tidy beginnings and endings, and achieve an impressive synergy between philosophy and sound. It's an album of pensive, measured statements with matching classicist folk rock arrangements that swell, swerve, and appear to finally resolve themselves, only to propose another sonic riddle. Nugent is aided immeasurably by The Cosmos, who faultlessly respond to the rising and falling tides of Night Fiction's subtly manifold moods. This is especially apparent on the changing-seasons movements of baroque-folk exploration "Shadows" and the tempestuous "Year of the Snake," a full-band workout that coils and strikes for nearly 12 minutes, ending with hell having been suitably raised and a viola seemingly turned inside out.

"Lucy," the sole instrumental here, provides a solo acoustic showcase for Nugent, but its in "Things Don't Change That Fast," a sighing treatise on time and repose, where his talents as bandleader and lyricist coalesce. "There may be only one difference between the hopeless and the brave/One's too specific, and the other's too vague," muses Nugent against an illuminated Americana backdrop, taking pleasure in the rich sound of his own drawl and making his points in a leisurely manner that suggests sand slipping to the floor of an hourglass.

The overarching mood is generally peaceable enough to act as a tonic for hangovers, but mind massaging as the album's warmth is, the pejoratives that tend to come with this territory (dad rock, indie comfort food, etc.) simply don't apply. Night Fiction can certainly function as a source of contentedness, but Nugent himself never shuts down and refrains from asking questions, compositional or otherwise. The line separating tranquility from complacency has rarely been clearer. (www.facebook.com/ciancnugent/)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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