Nouela
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Nouela

Seattle, Washington, United States | INDIE

Seattle, Washington, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Pop

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"REVIEWS: NOUELA - [ALBUM]"

Some records are able to grab a listener's attention for the simple reason that they sound exactly nothing like anything else on new release racks at that particular moment. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the catch is that after the album has managed to steal its way in, it has to have something about it which holds the attention of listeners and captures their imagination. that is the part which proves to be a little more difficult to negotiate, but Nouela Johnston has it cold and easily on her solo debut album away from People Eating People, Chants. With dense arrangements in the vein of Bjork but a haunted soul which simultaneously calls to mind Amanda Palmer, Nora Jones and Jolie Holland, Nouela can easily catch the attention of pop audiences on her own without the help of her "other" band, but there's also an unusual, captivating X factor which guarantees that they'll be held inevitably, inextricably enthralled.

Noela's spell is cast the instant “Joke” opens the the album, leading off with a sound which is so hauntingly clean and pristine that it's possible to hear the natural reverberation of the piano being played bounce off the walls of Red Room Recording studios in Seattle, WA and the weight of the fingers hitting the keys and the speed at which the mallets are hitting the strings within the instrument. It sounds a little unsettling when it's spelled out like that, but listeners won't be able to stop themselves from being drawn in by this perfectly naked and candid introduction which feels like a stolen moment and, when Nouela Johnston begins to sing, they'll be perfectly and completely overtaken by the the heart-wrenching delivery of lines like “It's a cruel joke to play/ Honest mistakes will haunt you to the grave.” The crack in Johnston's voice can rend flesh from bone and listeners will feel compelled to fall to their knees sympathetically as they listen to this seemingly spontaneous outpouring but, when they do as “Joke” draws to a close, they'll be knocked ass over tea kettle unawares as “Buckle Down” crashes into them with drums and bass blazing, and piano sparkling above.

In that moment, listeners will be shocked and dazzled and, as they're picking themselves up, they'll find themselves smitten by the girl who just knocked them flat. How could they not? It's not every day that listeners get sucker punched by music so pretty and ornate.

The pretty hits just keep coming too as Johnston shows listeners how harrowing a sound a piano can make and how well her voice can compliment it on “Fight,” how politely she can tell an unfaithful lover to pound salt before admitting that she hopes he'll come back again on “Home” (check out the contrasts between likes like “The best part of you is now long gone” in “Fight” and “Praying to anyone that you'd come home” in “Home”) only to retract it all immediately with “Suckers” (“Give us a rowboat and we'll drown in the river/ Give us a way out and we'll dig even deeper”) and just how fucked up she can make a composition sound without using words (the title track) only to immediately revert into far more urbane climes while still dripping venom (“Secrets” and the lines in it like “I won't call you a monster, 'cause I know that's what you want/ You always get what you want/ Don't want to give you a complex”).

Each of the emotional revolutions which occur per song on Chants are perfect and complete and, because they often sit at odds with each other, they'd frustrating as hell if another artist were to attempt them but, here, each is done with such care, coordination and fluent movement that it's impossible not to want to spin around in circles with Nouela; it's fun and shameful and marvelous all at the same time, and wildly addictive to indulge.

By the end of the record as “Regrets” devolves into poetic misery and sweet, introspective melody, listeners will feel perfectly fine with the idea of collapsing, spent, next to the singer and watching the whole - Ground Control Magazine


"Nouela Finds Her Comfort Zone"

I admit it, I typically don’t like solo female artists. As a woman, I’ve always felt like I was somehow letting the ladies down by disliking most of what I was hearing. With the exception of Ani Difranco, Joni Mitchell and a select few… I just couldn’t take it.

Nouela at Sunset Tavern
To my delight, a couple years ago I found People Eating People (PEP) and added one more voice to my very short list. PEP was dynamic, dark and spoke to me without feeling too preachy or, for lack of a better term, girly. Nouela (pronounced New-el-ah) Johnston, the singer/songwriter performing under the PEP moniker, had balls and they came out in her performances (metaphorically… come on). I listened to that album relentlessly for the next year, hungry for the sophomore installment. Unfortunately, like Nouela’s previous project Mon Frere, it wasn’t what she was looking for and so she fell off the face of the planet. Luckily, she’s recently emerged in a third, seemingly more powerful and permanent project, dubbed simply, Nouela.
Though this new foray seems named for a solo project, she’s not the only member of this new musical adventure. Helping round out her intense yet vulnerable voice and piano parts are a second keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. While the melodies and general feel of the songs on her new release Chants is similar to the work in People Eating People, the lyrics move in a new direction. Whereas PEP seemed to be a bit angrier, working through a lot of frustrations and turbulence, Nouela is about moving forward and finding where you belong. It’s a great album as a whole, but I have yet to find a tune as catchy as People Eating People’s “Rain, Rain.”

Although Nouela had yet to release her album when she played the Sunset late last week, she performed to a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chat with Nouela while she was traveling in a van on her way to Vancouver. She spilled about her musical past, future and some interesting things in between.
Music as a part of her life…
It’s definitely been a necessity. I’ve been deeply involved with music since I was four–I had my first recital when I was four. Starting there… I joined jazz band, in high school I was playing shows in the jazz band. I was convinced that I was going to be a jazz performance major or jazz history major. It’s always been something I’ve had to be a part of. But this is the first time it’s been 100% on me and I’m making a solid push to make it happen. I wanted to [major in jazz], but I didn’t get accepted into my number one school pick, so I just figured it wasn’t meant to be and went to audio engineering school instead… which I then dropped out of to go on tour. I’m interested in the recording process and setting up a studio in my home, but as far as being hired as an engineer for a studio, that doesn’t interest me at all and I learned that very quickly.
About her new album, Chants…
Right now I’m just excited about it coming out and hearing what people think about it. I believe in it a lot and I’m very proud of it. I’m excited to see their reactions; hopefully, they’re all positive. When I was recording it, I didn’t really think there was a lyrical theme, per se. I think musically speaking it’s kind of like a drive in the wilderness. It’s a really dark, really moody record, but I found it interesting. I didn’t plan it out to be that way, it just kind of happened. Maybe that means I’m a dark and moody person. I probably am.
Understanding her music and writing…
I feel like the [People Eating People] record looks at all the specific, terrible things that happened to me over the last year. This new record is more redemptive. I feel kind of like I’m laying it all out there. I feel like I know what I’m whining about now as opposed to “my heart’s broken so I’m going to write a love song”. I feel like I know myself and I know who I am now. Making art is very, very hard… it’s growing and adjusting to the person t - Inside Right Wrist


"Nouela - Chants"

Chants is one of those deeply personal-sounding albums that, through a combination of deeply intriguing lyrics and a degree of darkness, makes the listener want to find out as much about the artist as possible. However, despite careful research (read: extensive googling) the only information that I was only able to find was that Norwegian- Korean singer Nouela was born in Washington into a very musical family, her parents both being music professors, and her solo project used to be named People Eating People. Chants is an album is of a similar vein to the eponymous album from People Eating People, except that whereas People Eating People focuses more on dramatics, Chants combines this with personal touches and heart-on-sleeve lyrics that make the album seem like so much of a window into Nouela's mind that it is almost uncomfortable to listen to.

The opening track, 'Joke', is impressive because of the atmosphere that is created with only a piano, Nouela's drawn out vocals and a handful of deep, shuddering breaths. It's not single quality, but it accurately sets the tone for the rest of the album; haunting, ethereal and a little bit creepy. After this track comes 'Buckle Down', in which the drums keep things interesting but the repeated use of the word "you" and Nouela's penchant for the lower half of the piano remind the listener that she is not somebody to get on the wrong side of.

'Fight', the first single from Chants, is one of the highlights of the album. It's a song that again, perfectly balances on the thin line between dramatic and over the top. It's varied with distorted guitar sounds and jazzy claps at the beginning but really, it is the lyrics that steal the limelight in 'Fight'. As well as containing an incredibly catchy chorus, its layered vocals towards the end lend the song a confused tone as Nouela sings of two parallel lives, "she is chasing her dreams/ while I am chasing all the lines on my face." These lyrics could refer to lots of things; disillusionment, wrong or lost dreams, faded expectations; but whatever the listener takes away from this intense song, it won't be something that they forget quickly.

The latter half of the album is something of an emotional, impulsive journey. 'Home' is a simple, glimmering tune that is relatively cheerful in comparison to the rest of the tracks, but its happy impact is immediately crushed by the sense of impending doom generated by 'Suckers'. 'Chants' is a dark, paranoid babble of laughs and whispers, accompanied by the ominous thumping of piano keys. 'Doubts' is another strange track that starts with a shout, but at times, without the delicate tapping of cymbals and mask of piano notes, Nouela's voice, for the first time, sounds vulnerable rather than menacing as she cries "I can't be on my own." There is a definite mix of emotions in this album, but the themes of darkness and sadness are common to all of them.

Chants jumps about so much that by the time the listener gets to the final track, 'Regrets', they might feel slightly exhausted. However, this explosive and stunning end to the album is worth paying attention to. It is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse's 2007 single 'Back to Black', with its resigned tone and constant, steady drum beat that belies the soulful, broken hearted vocals above it. Again, Nouela's songwriting is key to the emotion of this song, and as the album draws to a close with the words "I will always remember your name," you would have to be a pretty emotionless individual not to at least feel something.
- The 405


Discography

Chants- released June 12th through The Control Group

Photos

Bio

Chants is the debut album by Seattle multi-instrumentalist/singer Nouela. Born to
Norwegian & Korean parents, Nouela Johnston spent the first 11 years of her life living in
Korea and learning to love music. It is no accident that the musical craft and composition
that Nouela displays on Chants feels like the endeavor of an experienced singer and
songwriter; the prologue to Nouela's career as a songsmith reveals it all. In her own words:
"My parents were both music professors when I was growing up. My mom has a doctorate
from Juilliard, my dad has a PhD in composition from Princeton. They were both such
hardcore musicians who spent their entire lives practicing, they essentially decided they
didn't want that for their children. They raised me in a musical vacuum. I really didn't have
too much to listen to in the house other than my mother's classical playing/practicing and
my father's records, which were the Beach Boys, Pet Shop Boys, Beatles, Kraftwerk, Monk,
Mingus, and some Weird Al Yankovic."
Emerging from this distinctive musical climate, Nouela performed her first piano recital at
the age of 4. At 11 she moved to Seattle and immediately joined her school's jazz band.
"I wanted to learn how to play EVERYTHING. I took guitar and flute lessons, then branched
to clarinet, saxophone, jazz piano, and bass. In high school I started playing shows in jazz
combos for money, and started fucking around on drums. I really just wanted to learn the
bembe beat for drum set because a clinic teacher said it was the hardest beat he's ever
learned.The main line to the bembe is in 'Doubts.'"
Nouela spent her teens and early twenties fronting bands (Mon Frere, People Eating
People) and cut her musical teeth recording and touring with both local Seattle groups and
national acts (The Fall Of Troy, Say Hi, Schoolyard Heroes, Cursive). After having worked
with a diverse stable of musicians & producers including members of The Blood Brothers
and Minus the Bear, Nouela decided to streamline her creative processes and play nearly
every instrument herself on Chants, even going so far as taking on the role of co-producer.
The sonic terrain of Chants appears like the dark landscape of a musically Darwinian island
that mirrors Nouela's upbringing: an enigmatic and isolated place where Carole King's
Tapestry has been allowed to co-mingle for countless generations with PJ Harvey's To
Bring you My Love and Fiona Apple's Tidal. What emerges is a unique body of music that
is both ambitious without being self-indulgent and vulnerable without being piteous.
Chants is a musical flood of feelings and emotions born from the enduring toil of the human
condition.