As a project, Tancred has had a surprising amount of staying power, emerging as the musical pseudonym of Maine singer-songwriter Jess Abbott in 2011 and has been around ever since, despite never finding much attention outside of the indie scene. With fourth album Nightstand though, it’s the first album of Abbott’s where this is her primary project after leaving synthpop band Now, Now last year, and also imbued with a confidence that first appeared in earnest on 2016’s Out Of The Garden.
And for a decent part of Nightstand, that can be felt, as this is a defiantly more upbeat, immediate effort that a lot of indie-rock singer-songwriters will have under their belts. The choppy, lo-fi rollicks of Queen Of New York and Reviews feel more stridently formed and strong, and even in the sense of darker thoughts and worries that come with being a queer woman in a society that still hasn’t fully accepted that, there’s a feeling of content on a track like Underwear that comes from simply not being alone. Nightstand shines brightest in this regard, avoiding the twee quirks that many indie artists are more than happy to latch onto for songwriting that’s more real.
It’s just a shame that, even by the token of which Abbott stands out, there isn’t more definition here. The sharper edge to a song like Hot Star or the glossy, dainty strings on Strawberry Selfish are nice touches, but at its core, Nightstand remains the awkward mumblecore soundtrack that countless others have already run into the ground. Abbott’s vocals remain sharp and tart in their execution, and with a production job largely falling on a brand of indie-rock with all of its cracked, chipped imperfections left in, any and all immediate though processes circle back to those who’ve spent the best part of the last few years popularising the sound and doing little different with it. Again, a firmer focus on lyrical content does a lot, but that impact is mitigated when the actual music is, in all honesty, not very interesting.
But as is the case with so many of these indie albums, they’re not for everyone, and fans who’ve stuck with Tancred will undoubtedly eat this up. It’s easy to see the appeal even if it’s not particularly gripping, and while it’d be nice to see this sort of indie-rock undergo a shake-up that it desperately needs, the songwriting is blessed with enough detail to ultimately save it from being too forgettable. An acquired taste then, but one that’s harmless enough.
For fans of: Julien Baker, Ratboys, Hop Along
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nightstand’ by Tancred is released on 1st June on Hand In Hive / Polyvinyl Records.