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Check Ahead: Nightlands, 'Oak Island'

The new album from the Philly-based multi-instrumentalist is a spacious and soaring collection from an artist finding his voice.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 08:00 AM

Nightlands is the work of multi-instrumentalist -- and bassist for Philly's The War On Drugs -- Dave Hartley. Nightlands is the work of multi-instrumentalist -- and bassist for Philly's The War On Drugs -- Dave Hartley. (Catharine Maloney / courtesy of the artist)

From the very first lines, Nightlands coaxes you into his ruminative musical world: "I'd like to invite you / For just a little while, for just a little while / To a place I used to go, when I was only seventeen."

The work of multi-instrumentalist -- and bassist for Philly's The War On Drugs -- Dave Hartley, Nightlands crafts the kind of music that feels intimate and deeply personal, even as it sprawls into otherworldly realms. Hartley seems to write through a methodical process of assembling intricately textured instruments and stacking them to make gorgeous headphone music equally spacious and tactile.

Nightlands' second album, Oak Island (out Jan. 22), mixes burbling electronics and layered keyboards with crisply raked guitar strums and dusty drum machine beats. It adds up to a distinct sound that sits comfortably between ambient folk, 1970's AM radio, glittery synth pop, and a breezy, almost tropical feel. There are hints amidst the static of samba grooves, an occasional festive burst of horns, and some slack-stringed slide guitar that recalls both Hawaiian traditionals and the gauzy dream pop of Beach House.

And yet, despite the sonic experimentation and a near-mathematical approach, the songs on Oak Island reach for the heart. At the center is Hartley's vocals, often cloaked in echoes or overdubbed harmonies that create gorgeous choruses of voices as he sings wistfully of love and dreams. The result is a lovely, soaring collection from a unique artist discovering his voice.

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