Aokigahara (Errant Child)
by Scott Deckman
The Nocturnes are led by Emma Ruth Rundle, who may be more famous (famous by indie rock standards, anyway) for the other band she’s in, the Red Sparowes. Where the Red Sparowes play instrumental post-rock, the Nocturnes purvey what some call slowcore (how many critical music studies bullshit categories are they gonna come up with?). And to my ears, they sound somewhat inspired by the erstwhile Red House Painters, a talented-enough band that is nonetheless hard to listen to for any appreciable length of time. And yes, I’m a rank newbie to this genre, so hold the poison darts with that allusion. Other bands like Low, Galaxy 500 and American Music Club are some of the more familiar names in this particular canon.
Texture – hypnotic, opiate, poppy-seed texture, is what the Nocturnes are all about on mini-LP Aokigahara (for the curious kind, Aokigahara is the name of a forest at the base of Mount Fuji known as a hotspot for suicides). With what I’ve already explained and given the name of the record, you could guess that whatever core is on display here, that this is not an upbeat record. You’d be right.
“London Town” evokes the desolate Old West as much as rainy England (with nods to My Bloody Valentine), while “Love,” the record’s centerpiece, is a contemplative meditation. Like most of Aokigahara, this five-minute epic features dual male-female vocals, this time amid Twin Peaks atmospherics (much of Aokigahara could find a home on that short-lived TV show), with the lone drumbeat standing out. This is a lonely, haunted song imbued with a strange beauty. The Nocturnes do not play happy music, though at times their somnambulant shoegaze is quite moving.
“Hello Neighbor” features nicely-mic-ed acoustic guitar, which brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Yr-Aur.” It’s a trippy lullaby, whatever the ethereal, plangent vocals are getting at. Christ, this really is sleepy music, even on slowcore rocker “Craving.” Wait, check that, this one’s kind of sinister. And yes, that’s the key, the danger lurking underneath these slow rhythms.
The Nocturnes aren’t for everyone, but neither are you. “Love” is certainly worth a download. Snooze away.