Ruban Nielson, a meticulous indie rock author, was born into a family of musicians. As a child, he would watch his parents play at resorts all over the Pacific, at the same time aware of the grotesqueness of the tourist industry and enjoying the pleasures of island life, especially his music. After the exuberant vulnerability of 2015 Multi-Love and 2018 sex and food, VPartially recorded in Hilo, Hawaii, represents Neilson’s return to his past, to the beautiful sounds and breezy sadness of a childhood spent in paradise. Consequently, there are big, ripe tunes that burst with sweet and sour juice and are arguably among the best Neilson has ever written. But much of this double album is lost in the mist of his production style, which, in his attempts to avoid being excessive, comes across as evasive and overly fussy. ultimately he does V it feels like a long breath of rummy.
Neilson’s songs have always been at odds with how he chooses to record them. The copycat production he helped forge—sweet vocals sung through grimy mic filters, tight songs with ear-popping compression—became one of the defining aesthetic markers of indie rock of the past decade; the clipped, clipped drum sound of a UMO-like groove will telegraph 2010s bedroom rock to future generations in the same way that gated reverb connotes 1980s mega-hits. recent years, as Multi-LoveThe title track, the flickering disco of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” and even her cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” all work with these restrictions by going beyond them, as if her funkness and charisma could not be confined to the basement in which they had been recorded.
To maintain this balance, the songs themselves need to either be strong and cohesive, embodying some kind of emotional urgency, or fully embrace their own roaming nature and chase the vibes at all costs. In V, Neilson often comes up with a great idea, the brilliantly constructed melody and pleasantly inane lyrics of “Weekend Run” 9 to 5, only to pause or double down. The breathy bossa nova that opens “The Widow” seems to offer limitless possibilities, but the instrumental song doesn’t seem to know what to make of them and settles for a bland verse-chorus arrangement, begging for a vocal track. The gnarled melody of “Guilty Pleasures,” and the graceful way it resolves into a dark chorus, is almost washed out because it sounds like it’s being played on a record player with an unbalanced tonearm. He feels wicked, or at least very unpunky, to wish the guy who made “Ffunny Ffrends” would clean up his new songs, but the patina of authenticity the production is meant to provide is wearing off.