This is the kind of album we don’t usually get around here; a folky, predominantly acoustic little number more likely to found reviewed in the glossy pages of Alternative Press or Spin than the cold, grey post-apocalyptic landscape of Chain D.L.K. However this release is deserving of attention because it IS different in a quirky, oddball sort of way. It is the arrangements more than the songs or singer that makes it unusual; although Ms. Walsh’s vocal characteristics are notable for their dichotomy of innocence and world-weariness.
The same is true with the CD cover- a girl looking like Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (or an older version of the Sunbeam Bread girl) and the title, "Bright Lights & Filthy Nights," a contrived but charming contradiction. And so it goes with the music- simple and guileless in song structure most of the time, yet employing subtle (and some not so subtle) production techniques and instrumental touches lift it out of the banal. You don’t hear much theremin and synth burbles and atmospheres backing most folky artists, but you’ll hear it here.
The result is what you might get if you were a folk singer/songwriter and your album was produced by John Cale, Brian Eno AND Edward Ka-Spel. There is a bittersweet aura to the songs as Nina’s voice is soaked in Melanie’s "Leftover Wine" and the embers and ash of Marianne Faithfull’s last cigarette before she started singing in Broken English. Echoes of Hope Sandoval and pre-Marble Index’ Nico (sans the Teutonic drama)
haunt the halls Walsh’s musical manse. I also hear a bit of Lida Husik and Claudine Longet. Not only has Nina well absorbed some of these nostalgic influences, but has wrapped them in an appealing modern eclectic package.
Perhaps that’s due to her musical resume. She did a vocal track for Primal Scream. She created and co-managed two record techno labels (Sabres of Paradise’ and Sabrettes’) with Andrew Weathererall. She was involved in SLAB with Lol Hammond and co-wrote two track on The Orb’s Cydonia’ album with Alex Patterson. I’m compressing here; there’s a lot more that she’s done, including running her own experimental underground label, CPIJ Records. But now you know she’s not just some chick with a pleasant voice and an acoustic guitar who happened to get lucky with an inspired bedroom recording.
There are some interesting diversions on Bright Lights’ too. Her vocal compatriot, Gareth Thomas, conjures a less emotive and gentler Martyn Bates (Murder Ballads’, Eyeless in Gaza) on "Storms". "Love Leech" is straight out of Danielle Dax’s playbook of playful weirdness. And the wonderfully atmospheric track "Industrial Folk" could easily have been done by Bjork. In certain respects, I’m reminded of the SPELL collaboration with Boyd Rice and Rose McDowall by the overall feel of the album.
As good as the songs are individually, there is one standout track, appropriately titled "Strong". It’s anthemic with a killer chorus hook. This song has a lot of potential in the college radio market. While I don’t think Bright Lights & Filthy Nights’ is perfect, it comes damn close to being a classic. Audrey Riley’s fine cello playing also deserves some mention as it enhances the melancholy mood of many of the tracks. Bravo, Ms. Walsh for putting out a fine album. I think it might just be remarkable enough to pique some curiosity amongst the jaded.