Shocking Pinks Guilt Mirrors(Stars & Letters) Buy it from Insound
Bedroom recorder Nick Harte has the uncanny ability to magically appear when it is assumed he’s not needed. It’s been seven years since we last heard of the prolific-yet-reclusive Kiwi, whose future once looked bright when his DFA-supported self titled compilation earned him some well-deserved acclaim. Shocking Pinks offered a wider glimpse into his homespun approach, servicing a mostly shambolic set of silvery indie pop that was splashed into an asperous surface. There’s always that worry trickling through an artist’s mind when making a return after a significant number of years, that of remaining relevant in a musical landscape that demands immediacy, but Harte’s second act sounds just as out of place as it did in his breakthrough year. Pinks incorporated that saturated, thick groove right about the time when danceable punk was on its last legs, and now he’s fending his way through a new set of heavily processed junkyard pop just as chillwave becomes an almost forgotten craft.
The return of Harte is both crucial and necessary, a fitting example of a tireless, if slightly hesitant artist whose careless about the constraints of time. If only the cause that brought him back weren’t so unfortunate - a total of three earthquakes severely damaged his hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, forcing him to relocate and reassemble his life. In experiencing chaos firsthand, Nick Harte had a cathartic reaction that completely shook his creative process. There’s a mood of abject dejection found throughout his comprehensive triple album effort, Guilt Mirrors, setting forth a wide array of unsettling soundscapes that stem from his onslaught of emotions. But it can also be joyously imaginative journey that's refreshingly uncalculated, revealing itself as a lengthy meditation on the impact of social isolation. Sitting at a whopping 35 tracks, a total of two hours and forty minutes, Mirrors is barely a fraction of the almost 400 tracks that he recorded in his period of silence.
One might peg Harte as a near obsessive going through a prolific streak, while others may look at it as a shameless act of arrogance. Nevertheless, Guilt Mirrors retains the frayed pop template he cultivated in Pinks, creating a dense, hallucinatory atmosphere rendered with a dreamlike shimmer. The more unconventional pieces present a looser, more unhinged side without abandoning his cloying ubiquity: Hospital Garden whirs along for seven minutes as a twinkling arpeggio is overlaid against some distressing, trickling synth work, while LV VS SX brings forth the laconic groove of Dance the Dance Electric while his hissing vocal strain gets lost in a blissful drift for close to fifteen minutes. There’s also the most welcome return of his warped disco workouts, found in the tracks Love Projection and Translation, both of which push the jerry-built, yet infectious drumming of Harte front and center; a joyous reminder of the early days of DFA, way before the Reflektors even thought of appropriating that sound.
Despite Harte’s insistence to foray into new, unexplored areas, it’s the compassionate ballads that capture his usual sad sack bearing. The pristine acoustic melody of St. Louis, featuring the cooing croon of Gemma Syme, and the bewailing piano melody of Motel reflect a mastery of simplification that actually makes more of a impact when set against a degraded sonic mantle. It’s rather disappointing that two of the album’s most tender moments are jammed right in between Harte’s most rambunctious behavior, found in the dissonant squall of Beyond Dreams and Take Me (Lower). But alas, such is the nature indulging in the pleasures of an arbitrarily sequenced trilogy. And it’s appropriate to mention that those who enjoyed the gooey noise pop of Pinks will find much to cherish in tracks like Ten Years and Working Holiday, which throb with that same trebly, muddled sound that made Emily and How Am I Not Myself? instant fan favorites.
Guilt Mirrors covers different facets of Harte’s unfiltered work ethic, cobbled together into an unpredictable jumble of distinctive idiosyncrasies that somehow brings more clarity into his thought process. Whereas we hardly heard a peep from him in over seven years, this sudden, almost jolting embrace of free expression can easily overwhelm as much as invigorate. It somehow manages to feel both complete and aimless at once, a diverse compilation of sorts that gathers a deeper meaning knowing the circumstances it was birthed upon. That’s what gives the album coherence and symbolic resonance - that of starting anew and battling hopelessness with a renowned vigor. But it can also be a real chore to sit through. It’d be nice for Harte to finally tackle a proper album, but he just can’t function under those strict parameters. Instead, he offers a far more valuable proposition - amassing a disproportionate amount of content and letting the listener edit his work. Even if it's not necessarily our job to do so.19 February, 2014 - 04:43 — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez