Review: Nous ‘Nous II’

Going through a band’s history, describing their artistic goals, or picking apart the press release can usually do a lot to to put you off before you’ve even listened to it, and that’s even when you’re in familiar territory. This is a very special album and I think that you should just go and listen to it because no press release or review can really do it justice.

But how do you describe something like this? Either in overarching terms explaining the basis or intent, or through a subjective experience. Both are likely to sound at least a little absurd due to the nature of what it is. Take my word for it, this is an enriching sonic journey that’s expertly realised, tastefully constructed, and unlike anything you’ve heard before. And yeah, I’m sure you might have heard plenty of ambient and experimental music, but I bet it wasn’t both as musical and life-affirming as this.

Nous II begins with ambient pulsing, synth loops created from gorgeous analogue synth tones, and drumming that calls to mind kraut rock. With the hesitant feel of unpractised improvisation, the synth cuts to sparse blips and then builds to a swing as distant sweeping scratches lead to a rattle and tilt before things blosom into glorious chaos. Among the tuneful cacophony there are gleams of Morricone. The drums swell and build, and I hate myself for using this word, but it all sounds so organic, but I don’t mean it in that hollow meaningless way that most people use it when talking about music – it sounds like a garden, like Arcadia in song. Now how’s that for pretentious? There’s so much happening and it’s just glorious. Like the peak of a crescendo without the patience for the build-up. Then it’s a ride, a stroll, a beautiful contemplation. There’s something of a Popul Vuh quality to this. And while it’s alive and bustling, there’s a very peaceful calm at its core.

The next track, Formless, is sparse and ambient with minimal guitar notes and distant drums, sounding like Bowie’s Moss Garden if he never got off H and made it to Berlin. It’s eerie and atmospheric, but still peaceful. Then we get to something that sounds like a 60s Italian thriller. I’m getting more Morricone, like something you’d find on Ipecac’s essential Crime And Dissonance compilation. Jazzy piano treads water while the drums keep a tail on the bass from a safe distance. Stalking and skulking and searching for clues before we reach another realm. Drums, percussion, bass, keys, strings, synths – all weaving in and out of each other. Is it all improvised? Is it live? It sounds like it should be a mess, but it is inexplicably beautiful.

Sometimes with soundscape or soundtrack or ambient or atmospheric vibe music, things get stuck in a loop or a rut, and a great moment is stretched into tedium, but Nous II just keeps growing and developing. It really sounds alive. Anyone can knock together improvised and experimental sounds, but it takes great musicians to play together in such a way and succeed in creating something that sounds natural and complementary but also well-judged and balanced. It sounds as if there is a conductor commanding the gradual shifts and swells at the heart of every piece, ensuring that nothing is either wasted or laboured. Things drop for a gorgeous piano line, give space for a steamrolling synth, or just ease up to let you absorb the worlds in sound, but when everything erupts, it does so in unison.

While there’s a lot happening musically in Nous II, it’s never bloated or superfluous, and always sounds right…

Nighten Gale has a melancholy beauty as a simple piano line pulses under a note progression accompanied by a tense drone. The drums introduce a collaboration of instruments contributing to something that sounds like uplifting and positive contemporary chamber music. It’s what Univers Zero might have sounded like if they turned their many hands to evoking beauty rather than dread.

World Map One sounds something like Sigur Ros. Specifically that almost untitled ( ) album that created a Scandinavian sonic otherworld. Droning soundscapes with what sounds like a distant didgeridoo and a low chanting that again, manages to evoke beauty rather than darkness. It’s remarkable to me how often such approaches create something dark, but Nous II is a celebration. I don’t know how comfortable I am listening to something that makes me feel good – until I’m hit with an unwelcome wall of noise. Screaming in a storm. Rattling and thrashing like a witch doctor purging bad juju. Now it sounds like one of those wig out “experimental” noise bands, but it doesn’t last long enough to dampen my feel for it.

Eventually there’s more of that delicate piano sitting above grinding drones. That contemplative, satisfying sense of relief. Shimmering piano chords conjuring images of calm seas and birds overhead. The whole album sounds like a journey across land and sea, sun and storm, emerging from chaos into the simple act of being – and maybe it’s meant to sound like that, as some of the titles seem to fit such an aesthetic. Amazing how music can take you places, especially when it’s more freeform. It seems that the secret is restricting the scope and staying true to a feel or intent. While there’s a lot happening musically in Nous II, it’s never bloated or superfluous, and always sounds right – as in, it maintains the same approach and atmosphere throughout.

By the final track, Nous have established the sound and made it their own. It’s somewhere between the artists previously mentioned: the sounds and arrangements of Popul Vuh and Ennio Morricone and the chamber music approach of Univers Zero, but with the effective power of rock repetition and synth eccentricity. It might sound like it’s some far out, sprawling, self-indulgent psychedelic mess for stoners, but it’s actually tightly controlled, economical, and incredibly listenable for something that will get lazily labelled as ambient or soundscape or world or whatever. It’s not Brian Eno’s Music to Ignore While it Plays to No-one in the Background. As I said earlier, this is a very special album and you should listen to it.

Label: Our Silent Canvas
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Instagram

Scribed by: Josuph Price