“Think about time, it’s wastin’” mumbles Nathan Shineywater on “Friend of Time,” an ambling, drugged-out track from Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled sophomore release. I, in turn, took his advice and counted the seconds and minutes until the album was finally over, and I couldn’t help but feel as though he was right. Brightblack Morning Light is a narcotic-fueled mess of hushed vocals and sparse instrumentation from Shineywater and best friend Rachel Hughes, self-proclaimed purveyors of neo-hippie tunes that are as likely to give you flashbacks as they are to lull you to sleep.
“Nabob” and “Rabob” (their nicknames for each other) are Alabama castaways now residing in rural Northern California. The album was written while both were homeless and living in tents; only recently have they moved into a tiny cabin together. Although they share friends in the `freak-folk’ movement that has surfaced in recent years, namely Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Andy Cabic of Vetiver, Brightblack’s sound shares little musical similarity with the aforementioned artists. Nabob and Rabob produce frequently lackadaisical brand of bluesy, groovy, folk-tinged music that’s probably best suited as a soundtrack for basement smoke-outs. Shineywater’s drop-tuned guitar and Hughe’s lackadaisical Fender Rhodes bass-keyboard combined with minimalist drumming offer little in the way of innovation, let alone captivation. If you’re not paying attention to the disc-changer, you’re unlikely to notice when one song ends and the next begins. The monotonous progressions seem to drag on endlessly, and most songs hover at well over five minutes. There’s just too much empty space in Brightblack’s sound to keep things interesting (despite occasional flute and trombone flourishes).
Kaleidoscopic soundscapes awash with reverb-laden guitar effects seem to flicker in and out of this reality and into another that only Shineywater and Hughes are privy to. Nabob’s whispered southern drawl is the perfect compliment to the stoned tracks found within, all with mostly indiscernible lyrics. But there are moments of clarity that momentarily shine through the smoky haze. The ridiculously titled “Star Blanket River Child” recalls Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan,” with distorted vocals and Hughes’s appropriately-paced keyboard tinkering. Shineywater applies just the right touch on the reverb to produce a truly spacey groove. Other tracks like “Everybody Daylight” and “Black Feather Wishes Rise” are like a less-menacing version of Matador label mates Dead Meadow and their own creepy-crawling jams, and yet are infinitely more difficult to endure.
Brightblack Morning Light is acceptable as background music for lighting incense and getting in touch with one’s inner-self, but it’s when the music takes the spotlight that its shortcomings become glaringly visible. For those who don’t always burn one before they put on an album, Brightblack isn’t for them. But if you’re planning on getting stoned anytime soon, then you might (just maybe) be able to ride this one out (you’ll need an abundance of patience regardless). Still, I’d hoped to be able to enjoy their sound in an unaltered state of mind, but I just don’t think that’s possible. Then again, maybe that’s the point.