Music journalism is a fickle thing. On the one hand, keeping up with trends and being knowledgeable about the freshest new acts can help one remain feeling young. Conversely, and somewhat paradoxically, it’s these trends and next big things that can also leave one feeling old. Very old. As far as Nonsuch Park goes, the second album from Canada’s Scott Helman, for this writer, in particular, it was the latter.
At least at first anyway.
It goes without saying that I’m not Helman’s target audience. For that reason, I went into Nonsuch Park with both an open mind and not without reservations. Reservations that proved both true and completely unfounded.
Opening with an eponymous minute-long vignette of birdsong and samples builds an upbeat and airy aesthetic, something that’s continued well into ‘Wait No More’, the first song proper and following track ‘Lois’. While these tracks are certainly inoffensive in themselves, you can’t help feel they do little to push any sort of boundaries with Helman playing safe to the point of irritation; the latter in particular feels especially grating. “I’ve never been one that’s good with words” he explains in its opening verse. We only need look to the proceeding chorus to prove he was right.
Thankfully, from here on out Nonsuch Park exceeds any of the expectations laid by its first two tracks. Scratch beneath the surface, and it begins to reveal itself as a deeper, more introspective, and much more nuanced album than either of those first offerings would have one believe.
‘Good Problems’ is built on warm washes of optimism, coming across not dissimilar to fellow Canadians Dizzy, whereas following track and previous single ‘Evergreen’ is a brooding examination of the climate crisis, inspired by stories from his fans. Elsewhere, the politics continue with ‘Afraid of America’, three minutes of blissed-out beats and understated brass that belies a more serious meaning.
There’s an intelligence and understating at play across the course of Nonsuch Park that’s not often seen in such radio ready pop, and it’s for that reason listeners would be forgiven for judging it on its opening ten minutes. They’d absolutely be missing out on a record that proves itself to be much more three dimensional than any personal expectations.
From the global politics of the aforementioned ‘Evergreen’ or ‘Afraid of America’, to the heartfelt introspection of closing ballad ‘Papa’,Scott Helman proves himself to be more than just another carbon copy popstar with very little to say. Well worth a listen.
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