Nightlands is the recording project of Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Dave Hartley. The music he creates in his bedroom is itself a bed of delicate, chiming strings and bubbling synths beneath a blanket of choral vocal arrangements. It’s dreamy in the literal sense — the seeds for the album were sown when Hartley began archiving musical ideas that occurred in his sleep with a simple bedside tape recorder. As a result his debut album Forget the Mantra is, in essence, a field recording of Hartley’s dreams — a travel journal through pop music and a collection of psych-hymns from the first human lunar colony. The songs sound both huge and intimate, breathy and cavernous like massive echoes of a faraway concert. It’s the big, shadow music from just across the lake. The album deals with themes of anxiety, fear and the limits of concentration. Therein, it mines Hartley’s personal history as often as it does influences The Beach Boys, The Traveling Wilburys and Hawkwind. Side A pulses with layers of tom tom drums on wide-open standout slow jam “300 Clouds” and nimbly-picked acoustic melodies on “Suzerain (A Letter to the Judge),” like Crosby, Stills & Nash gone comsic-kraut. The songs roll and gallop then stop to breathe, always exhaling with what sounds like a thousand voices. Through its experimental back half — reminiscent of Bowie’s Low or Kate Bush’s “The Ninth Wave” from Hounds of Love — full of vocal samples from Hartley’s real life, the more pop-leaning front end is given greater context, like a close study of a plant’s blossom before traveling down through its root architecture. Hartley, who for years has been a prolific sideman in many Philadelphia ensembles (most notably The War on Drugs), laid these songs to tape on a Tascam 388 insularly over several months, inviting friends along for feedback and ultimately, some additional tracking. Hartley is in the creative pocket at the moment, and more Nightlands releases and tours are in the works for 2011.
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