Karate Body Records – July 22, 2016
They say trends are cyclical. Nowadays, bits of the 80s aesthetic have returned in music and other pop culture, and Billy Nelson is channeling that mood in a way that could only be done by someone who experienced the decade firsthand. Water Sports is a cool, cohesive collection of six songs painted with buzzing synthesizers, laid-back drum machines, distantly roaring guitars, and Billy’s echoey vocals falling just behind the beat. The first two tracks on the album were released over the last year as singles – you can find more extensive write-ups on “We Could Be Friends” and “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” in older posts. “Feels Like an Arab Spring” is filled with shuffling drums, shimmering synths and arpeggiating piano that consume the song before giving way to a quiet ending. For me, the standout track on Water Sports is “Still Life with Cormorant,” a dark, densely layered song which finds Billy’s voice imitated by rattling guitars as he describes an encounter between a bottom dweller and a bird circling overhead like an apparition. Things get even hazier on “Let’s Live Through This Feeling,” which is arguably the catchiest song of the bunch. The line “because it was too dark, was too dark to see, I couldn’t make out objects standing in front of me” is almost self-descriptive of this song and much of this album – the music is strange, moody, impressionistic, with lyrics that leave a lot of interpretation up to the listener. The final track, “A Hidden Beach,” sheds the synthesizers in favor of layers of shimmering guitars, closing the album with a beautiful chorus of “I’m still in love with you.” As a whole, Water Sports listens like an abstract, introspective series of snapshots as Billy Nelson finds his way through the emotions and experiences of adult life.
Tracks I Liked: We Could Be Friends, Lord You’ve Got the Nerve!, Feels Like an Arab Spring, Still Life with Cormorant!!!, Let’s Live Through this Feeling!!, A Hidden Beach
Ben Southworth – September 5, 2016 – Kenwick Place