Nick Huggins – Five Lights (2011 LP)

With his second album, Five Lights, Melbourne based musician Nick Huggins has created a subtle and ponderous work, which, in its strongest sections is inspiringly creative, featuring complex arrangements and sound design techniques, combined with sparse instrumentation and a beautiful sense of space.

Most people will be more familiar with Huggins’ role as a producer for bands such as Hello Satellites, Oscar + Martin, Outouto and Laura Imbruglia, as well being part of the Two Bright Lakes label collective. Here Huggins brings the same attention to detail and love of the recording process to Five Lights as can be found on his work for other artists.

Although at first stylistically this music may seem to be more intentionally directed at a niche audience than some of the other records he has been behind, perhaps more of an ‘artsy’ one, the more traditional elements of his songwriting, such as narrative lyrics and 3-4 minutes song lengths, ensure that the average listener will not find the material entirely foreign.

In his half spoken delivery Huggins strikes upon some memorable images, such as the new years eve party snapshot “Firework”. The sparse production and deliberate spaces left between the words allow them to resonate and take on a disconnected, melancholic quality – as disconnected as the people in the story, on drugs and talking about politics, are from the subjects they discuss, and as the storyteller himself feels, as he hides out in the toilet. “I was in the bathroom when the fireworks began/it was new years eve/and most of us thought it was nothing”.

The overall restraint that Huggins uses in his production provides an atmosphere that binds the ten tracks presented here together. Although the press release accompanying the album boasts that the instrumentation was purposefully restricted to but a few (national guitar, home made electronics, massed recorder, firewood percussion, piano, string synthesiser), it is the way that Huggins manipulates these sounds to suit his needs and combines these at times unrecognisable sounds with traditional elements of pop music, such as piano and voice, that characterise the songs.

The press release also mentions that this is an album that benefits from repeated listens and close inspection, which is very true. One of the biggest criticisms of the music is that at certain points its subtlety will undoubtedly test many listener’s attention span, as if you do not keep your ears open, one track will certainly blur into another. Presumably it is for this reason that the entire record runs just over 30 minutes and says what it has to say, both lyrically and musically, in an extremely concise and economical way.

Five Lights is not simply an album, it is part of a larger project comprising of three (or arguably four) components: the album, with each track having a corresponding video available on the Two Bright Lakes website, a second CD of instrumental guitar music, and a book of poetry. In this way Huggins can be seen as an artist first and foremost, in the most general sense of the word, more than a musician/sound engineer/producer/writer, although he is obviously these as well.

The soundscape elements of the music lend themselves perfectly to the accompanying home made videos, mostly single shot footage of unremarkable scenes, such as an aeroplane passing by, or rain water pouring down a drain, and one suspects that Huggins could make a decent career for himself out of soundtrack work.

This music will not be for everyone but it is an album that benefits from repeated listens, and is innovative and daring in its own way.

Originally published on The AU Review. View original article.

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