Sarah Bethe Nelson‘s debut album, Fast-Moving Clouds, was one of 2015’s biggest surprises. Her intimate and poignant songwriting and the hazy psychedelic-pop were spellbinding. Beneath the music, however, was a grittiness, a confidence, and an exclamation of perseverance and self-fulfillment. Not surprisingly, the album left a lasting impression on us, and we anxiously waited for her sophomore effort. Two weeks ago, it finally arrived.
Oh, Evolution is a splendid addition to Nelson’s growing discography. The LP feels like an extension of Fast-Moving Clouds, but the music is bolder and more expansive, and Nelson’s vocals are more expressive. Her intimate storytelling, though, remains, where in each song the listener is completely absorbed in the moments Nelson paints. Whether it is in the bedroom, walking down the street, or sharing a beverage, Nelson has us right next to her experiencing her pains, disappointments, and successes.
“Evolution” perfectly depicts the Nelson’s fuller sound. The psychedelic-pop foundation remains, but the pace is quickened and the tribal-like rhythm section gives the song an unexpected edge. The song also represents a departure in Nelson’s songwriting. It is less introspective and more narrative, as Nelson describes the transformation of a relationship over time. A gritty almost sinister atmosphere permeates over “Sugar Factory”, as Nelson sets the niceties aside for an edgier storyline. The song is two former partners, possibly lovers, meeting at the OK Corral for one last encounter.
A playfulness also lingers on Oh, Evolution, which was largely absent from the more serious tones of Fast-Moving Clouds. “I Don’t Care” has a carefree vibe, as the smooth melodies are like the ocean breeze blowing in the warm summer air. The approach beautifully hides Nelson’s “f*ck you” message to an ex, who once told her, “I don’t deserve you”. The warm and folky “Bright Thing” is an unexpected, shoulder-shimmering number. Nelson contemplates the world around her and her place in it as she thinks out loud, “I wonder if it’s ever going to change”.
The more serious, bedroom-like songs still remain on the album. “Face the Waves” is an intimate stunner about two people facing the end of the world together. The finale, “Deadbolt”, is the album’s emotional centerpiece. Nelson’s voice returns to its whispery quality. The songwriting is introspective and poignant, as she reflects upon the life of a person who has moved on. The song is shrouded in memory, lost, and jubilation, yet it also feels like a dream. It’s an event one wishes to succumb to for eternity, and the perfect ending to a fascinating and absorptive album by an artist on the rise. Oh, Evolution indeed!
Featured photo by Kirk Stauffer.
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