Nic Nassuet - Eleutherios
There is, in rock and roll, a tradition that many don’t talk about of artists getting in their own way. This is especially true in the case of solo artists, where an artist may be really good at one or two or even many things but he or she mistakes that for being good at all things. I’m not just talking about musicians who try to make the transition to writing or art or even, horror of horrors, acting. Many rock songwriters, for instance, mistakenly would think they were good at singing, or producers would think it was a good idea to rap or sing. In some cases, like Bob Dylan or Neil Young, it works despite said artist having, say a horrible voice. In others it can go very wrong and irrevocably damage the fabric of our very existence (I’m looking at you, Kanye West).
In the case of “goth folk” artist Nic Nassuet, we’re kind of in between working and not working. It’s clear that Nassuet’s voice, to be tactful, borders on hideous. We’re talking butt rock a’la Vince Neil but with even less musicality. High-pitched, whiny, and better left off every recording ever, I guess this is the “goth” part of the folk, although I put it to Nssuet that the “goth” part is nothing more than a lot of piercings and white face makeup that he and his permanent backing singer Catrina Grimm don at their live shows. His guitar playing is nothing terribly clever or interesting either. Somehow, however, he very nearly pulls off listenable music on his new album, Eleutherios. The songwriting on this work is almost good enough to cancel out the odd and off-key vocals from Nassuet. Almost.
Eleutherios opens with “Cross and Crown,” a short piece introducing Nassuet’s average-ish guitar playing. His voice almost sounds normal at the beginning, but it’s still very clearly flat. When he launches into his weird jock rock falsetto, it doesn’t really improve things. Grimm and the other backing singers have gorgeous voices, and the difference definitely clangs there. The song composition on this piece, as with most others, however, is stellar. I’m not sure if it’s the passion or the chord progressions or what, but it’s still a decent song. This is a recurring theme, and one that has me scratching my head, especially around the middle of the album.
“When It Falls” is the first single released off of Eleutherios. Be prepared to butt rock out almost immediately – no vocal buffer this time. Yet again, however, I find this song to be very catchy and almost haunting in the chorus despite the very simple folk rock guitar, bongo drums and cringe-worthy vocals. It really shows how important the way a song is put together can be in the overall listenability of the composition. It’s kind of like when someone is extremely attractive despite not having one traditionally “good” feature. It’s the way a song carries itself, its passion and the feeling it connotes that is portrayed with good composition, and you can’t discount it.
Something surprising happens on the next three songs. Nassuet’s vocals suddenly improve tenfold. On “The Nothing” they are not only on-key, but they are almost operatic and, for once, match the violin which is omnipresent in most of the songs on the album. In “The Giver” and “Goodnight, Goodbye” the vocals are on-key and very well trained, as an actor in a musical might sing them. To wit, Nassuet starred in Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Doomsday Cabaret, two musicals. So what we’re dealing with here is not someone who can’t carry a tune but a trained vocalist who instead chooses to sing in this off-key jock rock style. Why? Has this veteran musical actor come up with some kind of rock star character to play in his own solo music? It really is very strange but at least that answers the question of where Nassuet honed his songwriting craft: he’s been in musical theater almost all his life.
After those lovely interludes of on-key vocals, we’re right back to the howling falsetto of butt rock but only for one song, “Black Dress.” This song is unremarkable other than the vocals on which I now believe I have remarked enough. The album closes with the country-ish “She Rides Moonlight” which also contains decent, above average lyrics from Nassuet. I am now left thoroughly confused by Nassuet and Eleutherios, as I imagine many of the other listeners will be.
Would I prefer if Nic Nassuet employed someone else to sing his well written and well-crafted songs or to use the well-trained and on-key version of his own voice? Absolutely. I will say, however, that in the songs like “The Nothing” and “The Giver,” some modicum of passion is lost when high technique is employed in Nassuet’s vocals. I am definitely a lover of technique, but on Eleutherios I generally found myself preferring the songs like “Cross and Crown.” As I’ve said, it’s not the vocals; I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not a fan. It’s the way Nassuet builds his songs and the passion he connotes when he just lets loose and does the music he loves. Now I think the question is in future will he try to make the outside match the inside? Combine technique and emotion? It’s quite a trick to pull off, and one I think we take for granted since there are so many great musicians out there nowadays. Here’s hoping Nassuet pulls it together as he continues on his solo path. I think if he can do it, he will have something really special and he’ll be able to name it “goth folk” if he wants.
Jun 09 2015
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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