[sic] Magazine

Cian Nugent – Night Fiction

Track titles aside, instrumentals are open to wide interpretation when it comes to “meaning”. Add lyrics to a composition, though, and (rightly or wrongly) they often start to assume a more concrete identity. The “meaning” of such pieces then becomes limited in scope though, lyrics having imposed a theme – or even genre type – that musically was perhaps never there. Respected steel-guitarist Cian Nugent provides the vice versa, having penned two meandering and wordless LPs between 2011 and 2013 that were, in all but name, folk records. In the face of tradition, he let his fingers alone do the storytelling and often they were more than skilful enough for the job.

Night Fiction is the Irish musician’s third album and the first on which he brings his voice to the fore. Would he and his band, The Cosmos, work seamlessly around the new addition as if it were just another instrument? Or would they dial back the rest of the palette, Nugent’s famed guitar talent included, to give the lyrics centre stage? Perhaps inevitably the answer lies somewhere between the two. Night Fiction comprises seven tracks, a blend of full-band set-up and Nugent solo material (see the stripped-back acoustics of “Lucy” and “Nightlife”), and while they’re undisputedly a logical step forward, the least interesting thing about them is often the lyrics. Truth be told, Nugent’s singer-songwriting is never less than pleasant, but it’s only when the spotlight is off him that the album truly shines. Given point on the pin-drop “Shadows”, for example, he transforms into a hushed, jazz-club singer and his smoky, Neil Hannon-esque observations never quite elevate themselves sufficiently until his band round in to save him.

Playing off Nugent’s dreamy finger-picking on many an intro/outro, Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh’s sterling viola work, however, is a great distraction, adding traditional folk tropes in places and creaking, Velvet Underground unease elsewhere. Brendan Jenkinson’s warm organ drones increase the lightly psychedelic vibe too, but Night Fiction remains a totem of rose-tinted Americana nonetheless. “Lost Your Way”, for example, freewheels like Neil Young popping the top and hitting the open road. The single, “Things Don’t Change That Fast”, combines stately strings with some of Nugent’s neatest couplets and choruses, slowly moseying under starlight to some distant and dusty pueblo.

And then there’s the closing track “Year Of The Snake”. Where to begin really with this twelve-minute epic? Starting with disembodied strumming and the bending of strings, a low dither of organ and viola creep in to fill the many open spaces like a mild dose of tinnitus. Gently ticking percussion joins the party, building and increasing the tempo until – out of nowhere – you realise you’re now listening to a melodic kraut jam. Not to be outdone, Nugent next puts forth his scuffed vocal, adding a jangling sense of psyche-folk to proceedings. A burst of rousing piano and some square-dancing viola then spins the heavy mass out of control and the whole things takes on yet another identity, whooping and careering around like Titus Andronicus-style, barroom punk-rock. It’s really quite breathless and completely wonderful stuff. Note to Nugent: that’s how you incorporate a vocal, mate. Wow.

Best track: “Year Of The Snake”

~Night Fiction is released January 22nd 2016 via Woodsist.~