Nat Johnson's A Neighbour With The Curtains Closed
Solo Nat Johnson’s dark debut a treat for fans of PJ Harvey and Alela Diane.
Many a new artist comes to the attention of Subba-Cultcha with records written during bouts of turmoil, their PR machine drawing the curtains on a dark mood before a note’s even been played.
That needn’t be the case with Nat Johnson’s solo debut, Neighbour of the Year; anchored in anguish, it’s clear these seven songs come straight from the heart of a tortured soul.
Written, we are told, during a period of anxiety, Johnson’s songs exude a sense of foreboding that demands the listener’s complete attention.
Her voice, at once fragile then clarion, is centred at the mix of every song, ranging from bleak guitar strums through to more elaborate country-tinged jams.
Putting the best first, "Not Now, Horse" builds from acoustic balladry to full-blown epic, complete with a lush contribution from the Stannington Brass Band all huddled around a gorgeous haunting melody.
At times reminiscent of Alela Diane’s About Farewell - such as the folky finger-picking "I Can’t See You" - and at other times of PJ Harvey’s "White Chalk", this is a collection as bleak as it is brief.
Relief comes in the uplifting bird song and harmonium-driven annotation of self-discovery, "Dog", with Johnson sounding positively charged as she flutes: “I would call, and he would come.” Its a beautiful song and sets the scene for success to come with more palatable moments should she emerge contented next time around.
Neighbour of the Year is released on 17 November by Straw & Hay Records.
Words by Gary Shepherd