When I first heard Forget the Mantra, the first album from Dave Hartley’s Nightlands project, I was completely enamored. From the moment I pressed play, it somehow matched my life, fitting in nicely like only few records could at the time. Now, a few years later, Hartley returns with Oak Island, his newest effort via Secretly Canadian. For me, this is a different beast; yet, it’s solid through and through.
When “Time and Place” opens the record, the song revolves around Hartley’s gently draped vocal, seemingly hanging in mid-air. Slowly, drums make an appearance just after the 1 minute mark, pushing the song forward ever-so-slightly. Reflecting back, Oak Island begins much in the same manner as the previous effort, but by the time one arrives at the following track “So Far So Long,” one can see that there’s a bit more clarity present: a bit more focus if you will. That being said, it takes a bit of the mystery away from it all.
Juxtaposed to Forget the Mantra, the layering of the music here definitely has a less ethereal quality. For instance, “Nico” has somewhat of a flamenco influence with the guitar and drumbeat. These direct approaches make Nightlands both more accessible, yet less thoughtful. Sure, the usage of horns on tracks like “I Fell in Love With a Feeling” adds a little bit of nostalgic pop grooving, but it’s seemingly open; there’s nothing to be discerned, nowhere to find yourself lost. Therein lays the one issue I’ve found in this listen, while more immediately approachable, it doesn’t seem to have the longevity that I felt with the first release.
Of course, there is one issue that still remains for me, which could change the whole game…the title, Oak Island. Thematically, one tends to look immediately at the references to love (they’re even mentioned in press). But, Oak Island is a mysterious place, with a mysterious treasure; people have spent their lives hunting for said prize. Perhaps I’ve faltered here in my quick judgment of Hartley’s work. Knowing the history of Oak Island, it could be possible that he built obvious hooks atop his detailed layering, hoping to trick listeners into discarding the LP, or at least with comparing it to Forget the Mantra.
In the end, the album is an enjoyable listen, although a dozen listens finds it a little bit more obvious than the previous release. Multiple stand-out tracks exist, such as “Nico” or “I Fell in Love with a Feeling,” but their presence alters the overall cohesiveness just slightly. Nightlands originated by crafting one man’s dream-scape, which flowed from beginning to end. Oak Island on the other hand seems like a collection of songs, good songs mind you, but with songs that stand alone. Still, you’ve got to spend time with the entirety of the album to full appreciate it all. I suggest you start there.