Alex Nicol “Been A Long Year”
Montreal singer-songwriter – ALEX NICOL – has shared the spectral new single: “Been A Long Year”.
The title-track of a five-song EP (arriving 30 June), this lead single includes the unmistakable guest vocals of Angel Deradoorian (Dirty Projectors / Decisive Pink).
Guided by Nicol’s haunting vocal pirouettes, “Been A Long Year” is an acoustic ballad which connects personal feelings of grief and sadness at the loss of many loved ones with a wider feeling of an emptiness that permeates through the modern world. Conjuring images of towns desolated by unemployment and families feeling the pressures of these rapidly changing and challenging times, evocative lyrics like “And all the shops are empty / And the diners too / The miller, baker, and seamstress / Gotta find something new to do / But it’s hard times when you add it up…” weigh a heavy lode and will cut deep.
Speaking about the track, Alex Nicol explains:
“In “Been A Long Year”, I wanted to express my frustration at running from my feelings for so long. It felt like the world was crumbling at the same time as I was pretending everything was fine, but I really wasn’t, and I finally expressed it. It feels like one long exhale for me.”
Dense of subject matter, but gossamer to the touch, the floaty backing vocals provided by Deradoorian, sombre french horn hums of Pietro Amato, and astral orchestrations of violinist Emmanuel Ethier provide an otherworldly mirror to Nicol’s lucid observations of real-world strife.
The eponymously titled track provides a captivating entry-point to an inspiring new collection of songs from Alex Nicol entitled ‘Been A Long Year Vol.1’ (out 30 June 2023). To the casual observer, the softly billowing sounds of Nicol’s new EP may not immediately communicate a sense of hardship, but arrive as the direct byproduct of a journey through personal tragedy to self-acceptance for the Montreal singer formerly of the band Hoan.
The years surrounding the EP’s creation weren’t particularly kind to anyone, but shortly after completing his 2020 debut long-player ‘All For Nada’, Nicol entered a phase of staggering loss and mourning. Friends died. Family members died. He lost his job. As each new crushing sadness hit, Nicol began realising he’d spent his adult life avoiding difficult emotions like the ones he was being overpowered by. It slowly became clearer that his upbringing had conditioned him to maintain a false but constant state of hyper-stability. A small lifetime’s worth of unacknowledged feelings began coming to the surface and everything in Nicol’s world began to change.
While beautiful and well-thought, Nicol’s music before this often hid behind over-intellectualisation. Devotions were specific and his poetic turns were sincere, but emotional wavelengths were tightly controlled. For the songs that poured out for ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’, Nicol let the raw feelings flow. Instead of fine-tuning lyrics or meticulously dissecting every possible way a song could be interpreted, it was more important to set free what was trying to get out. He was uncovering a newfound vulnerability within himself, and this carried over into the music as well. Lyrics about how much hurt he’d been holding onto, how scary the world could be or how overwhelming his recent experiences had been were transmitted without fear or qualification. Nicol relinquished control and simply tried to be honest with himself.
Even though it bloomed out of heavy times, the resultant EP is by no means a gloomy listen. The songs move with warmth and curiosity, Nicol’s haunting voice gliding over understated chamber pop flourishes, elastic bass grooves, and expansive production that spills out like the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds. The EP pulses with a gentle melancholy that recalls the fragile sweetness of Nick Drake or Sea Change-era Beck, and it explores the same arid atmospheres as contemporaries like Andy Shauf or Wand vocalist Cory Hanson’s country-tinged solo albums. More than anything, ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’ feels like a protracted sigh of relief. It’s a document of a calloused spirit finally letting go, and the weightlessness Nicol achieves outshines all of the struggles that brought him to this point.
With all songs written and performed by Alex Nicol (vocals, acoustic guitar, mellotron, farfisa), guest musicianship across its five songs was contributed from Simon Trottier (electric guitar, lap steel), Maxime Castellon (bass) and Guillaume Ethier (drums).
Produced and mixed by Emmanuel Ethier (who also contributed strings and keys) with additional mixing by Mark Lawson, Alex Nicol’s ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’ EP will be released on 30th June 2023.