Pete Nolan Easy

[Arbitrary Signs; 2015]

Styles: indie, psych, folk, laziness as contentment
Others: Magik Markers, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Morgan Delt, Holydrug Couple

On Easy, Pete Nolan sounds every bit the slacker its title suggests. His debut album away from the Magik Markers’ battered drums, it glides him through a hazy flow of chilled indie, psychedelic rock, and wanderlusting pop, arousing the sense that he doesn’t always relish exerting himself or embodying the kinds of frayed intensity epitomized by his day job. Yet rather than exposing the oftentimes sticksman as a hopeless bum who’s scared of the world and the hard work it imposes on us, the album’s nostalgic ease paints him as someone who’s contented with himself and his place in the world.

Opener “Marshmallow Moon” exudes such ease. Realized by swaggering rhythm guitar and a happily meandering lead, it revisits youthful days spent touring with a band of the same name, days when Nolan and his comrades “felt so free and alive.” The same escape into the past and its idealism is encountered in “Teen Vision/Blank Shipwreck,” where the syncopation of a bright-eyed piano riff and the flitting of another toasted Fender cue the impression that Nolan has detached himself from the present and its mundanity, into a realm of “mind expansion,” “gumball rides,” and “perpetual motion machine[s].” With both journeys, their carefree tranquility invites the suspicion that Nolan has rejected the rush-hour world of bills, bankruptcy, and bombs, veering instead into a world where his mind is spread thinly over an unending moment of peace.

It also seems like he’s rejected the Magik Markers, at least if the wide gulf between the tempestuous angst of the Magik Markers’ back catalog and the maudlin restfulness of a “Driftin Wayvz” is any reliable measure of the situation. As tempting as it would be to run with this line of thought and speculate that the track’s sweeping folk manifests a glaring difference in sensibility between Nolan and Elisa Ambrogio, there are more affinities between his newfound lassitude and his band’s customary agitation than might be initially recognized. For one, both stand at critical distance from the outside world and its issues, even if the Magik Markers express this distance through splenetic anger, while a solitary Nolan expresses it through aloof daydreaming and narcotics. In both cases, these orientations unfold equally from a distaste for the trials and tribulations of 21st-century life, with the caveat being that, in the case of Easy and its anesthetized disengagement, Nolan used his distaste as a rationale for exercising an inner serenity that had previously been dormant.

This isn’t the only parallel, since both sides of the equation also deal in lo-fi production values, once again implying retreat from the world and its noisome demands. With Nolan, the warm fogginess of such jaunts as “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream” serves as a barrier between him and everything else, protecting him from harm and harassment. Its phase-shifted melody, fuzzed skiffle, and withdrawn vocals all sound like they’ve been recorded on a remote island, connoting an abstracted yet snug isolation that permeates the majority of Easy and satisfies Nolan’s unwillingness to participate in all the absurd insanity that passes for reality these days.

From the addictive laziness of “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream,” it would appear that Nolan has chosen the life of a disconnected layabout because the thought of wrestling with a globe famed for its underemployment, crime, poverty, mental illness, and warfare fills him with diffident terror. Yet as the nonchalant chords of “Sunshine Ocean Disguise” or the smoky mirages of “Backwater Blues” strongly insinuate, his separation from the world is motivated less by apathy or a lack of confidence than it is by an overall satisfaction with his own self and the private world it constitutes.

This is what shines through Easy and its ramshackle psych-indie more than anything else: the feeling that the “slacker” is merely someone who is perfectly happy with his lot in life. He consequently suffers from little apparent need to expend himself in the incessant quest for more of this or superior versions of that, so he remains in comfort with placid songs like the synth-caressed “Sound of the Bees.” Even if such gentle stretches of calm don’t push the envelope in terms of originality or impact, they create precisely the swathes of insulated peace they aim to create. As Nolan sighs in the hallucinogenic “The Mirrored Hallway,” they provide “no way of knowing/ Which way [you are] going,” but that’s exactly the point, because once you immerse yourself in them, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

Links: Pete Nolan - Arbitrary Signs

Most Read