Comparing Nelson Can now to where they’ve been for the best part of the last decade is rather striking exercise. The 2010s saw them come into their own as a decent band, building off a well-versed garage-rock foundation that aimed to extrapolate the bass-and-drums formula that Royal Blood had turned into a money-printer, and all without sounding as stagnant and, frankly, boring as so many before them had been. And that’s what’s been the key factor in their evolution, with their adding and bolstering of their sound culminating in 2017’s EP3 and the bringing onboard of more open, atmospheric sounds. It’s what feels like the most critical catalyst for So Long Desire, the second album reportedly taking wildly different shifts in tone and direction as Nelson Can effectively demolish everything they have to start all over again.
And make no mistake, as far as reboots go, So Long Desire is definitely up there with some of the most drastic in music in some time, with all but fleeting glimpses of Nelson Can’s garage-rock past being fully pushed aside and replaced by something along the lines of HAIM by way of The Knife. But even for such a dramatic shift, Nelson Can have found their feet remarkably early, while not the most sizable display of their pliability, it’s all incredibly succinct. So Long Desire has all the makings of a direction that isn’t even close to being fully tapped, and yet it’s still a compelling, complete listen that only reveals more detail and constructive nuance with each subsequent listen.
It’s interesting to say all that and not have to address any sort of teething problems either, because that’s generally not a factor. Besides snippets of more traditionally rock riffs on Interlude and Akebono, Nelson Can have thrown themselves headfirst into their new guise, to the point where there’s really no need to waste any time transitioning. It’s made even better by the fact that album can keep such an imperative tightness intact, something that’s always a key factor in this sort of dark, synthetic music thriving. So when first track proper Limelight builds from a thrumming bass to incorporate a wonderfully precise percussion loop and plinking synth drops among its ghostly production, the timing with which each individual element hits and builds to form an incredibly potent final product, the timing and pop constructive power is borderline flawless. It’s the same with the cavernous production that the bass and drums slice through on Madness, or the glowing synths and multi-tracked vocals over the throbbing swagger of I Wanna Be With You; as far as refining themselves and dictating exactly where they want this new sound to go, Nelson Can have pretty much knocked it out of the park on their first go. There’s the occasional misstep like the slightly-too-empty production that can make Yeah, I Didn’t Think So feel like a slightly flaccid closer, but otherwise, So Long Desire hits exactly where it needs to to work within pop of this stripe. It helps that Selina Gin is perhaps the perfect vocalist to accompany such a sound, able to hit those acute, emotional spikes but with enough malleability to sometimes feel like a completely different vocalist. It’s an impressive tactic, especially when it comes to enhancing the depth of these songs, and for as off-kilter and wonky as some of these compositions can be at their core, Gin serves as the gleaming pop stabiliser to keep everything in place and on track.
That’s a similar case with the writing as well, as the band look to examine various processes of love while attempting to wade through the murk they find themselves in simply to make sense it of it all. It’s why Madness is the closest to an album centerpiece as there is here, drawing its central conceit from Shakespeare’s King Lear and how destructive and devouring love can be. It’s naturally selfish and dramatic as shown by Limelight and I Wanna Be With You respectively, to the point where walking away and trying to repair oneself feels like the only logical move to make on So Long Desire (I’m Getting Over You). Accentuated by the delicacy and an almost ethereal production quality that they’re shrouded in, there’s an almost supernatural quality to Nelson Can’s depiction, and as it emerges from the gloom and smoked-out darkness that constitutes this album’s makeup, there’s an inherent uncertainty that keeps this album consistently compelling despite how short it is.
Even beyond that, it locks So Long Desire down as the first big surprise of the year, the sort of album that might have had rather meagre, even underwhelming origins, but has come out of the gates to subsequently floor any and all expectations. Sure, part of that comes from the tremendous left turn that Nelson Can have embarked on perhaps artificially raising it somewhat, but even on its own merits, So Long Desire is the sort of addictive, deceptively intoxicating indie-pop album that’s always easy to make time for. Given how it’s ultimately turned out it’s anyone’s guess where Nelson Can go after this, but hopefully they can stay on this track for just a bit longer. They’re too good at it for this to be just a one-off.
For fans of: St. Vincent, The Knife, PVRIS
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘So Long Desire’ by Nelson Can is released on 31st January on Alcopop! Records.