Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we delve into Nova Casanova, a singer/songwriter that cites influences ranging from Nat King Cole to John Lennon. In the vein of his heroes, Casanova strives to create innovative new sounds through experimenting in a bevy of unique directions. His newest studio endeavor, ‘While They Were Dancing,’ is a fascinating ten song collection that utilizes what Casanova refers to as “ultra rock” tuning.
“Ultra rock” was originally coined by Henry Cowell in 1917 in his book ‘New Musical Resources.’ He argued a genre called “ultra rock” would form that had an emphasis on the second in a musical scale rather than the third. “I use the ninth and sixth which are both seconds in the musical scale,” the artist explains. “Where you would find seventh notes used, I will use the sixth instead.” Casanova’s guitar is tuned to this formula, which he then builds larger in a multi-layered process.
There’s an inherently unique quality to Casanova’s music as a result of this sonic exploration, I’d argue, making his music quite unlike anything else you’ll hear in the independent scene right now. The songs often have an eerie atmosphere, accented in a mysterious, lovely way by dancing synthesizers that align into the same tuning as the guitar. ‘While They Were Dancing,’ the title track, kicks the album off with one of its most compelling efforts. The instrumentation and lyricism are simply beautiful.
Many of the songs on this record also have a very sing-along quality, such as ‘Lava Lamp.’ The tunes sound recognizable; they’re accessible with a pop sensibility that isn’t ostentatious or devoid of emotion. ‘Lava Lamp’ is a gorgeous ballad unlike anything I’ve heard before and ‘Apple Land,’ the following track, has such personality, infused with bright, 1980s-esque synthesizers. Casanova has Elton John’s accessibility and Randy Newman’s wit. (Or for you millennials for whom those references are too dated, he sounds a bit like Father John Misty, too.)
Halfway through a second listen of ‘Something Grand,’ another parallel finally struck me. Fans of Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ and ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ era will find something very familiar in this music. It’s slickly produced with some sparkling bells and whistles, but it’s also a bit edgy and remarkably well written. ‘Calico Doll’ has a similar atmosphere, sounding like a tune right off the cutting room floor of ‘Coney Island Baby.’
‘Lock on the Door’ has a rather complex percussion section that seems to fall slightly out of step with Casanova, but by and large, it’s quite a good song. “I keep a lock on the door where my soul is aching,” he croons in the chorus. This album has some wonderfully quotable lines. “Something inside of me wants to be inside of you,” he sings on ‘Notorious,’ as well, another bizarre, but oddly lovable musing.
The final three tracks of ‘While They Were Dancing’ are, true to the album’s name, quite danceable. ‘Throw My Love Away’ boasts some of the album’s best instrumentalism, including a drowned-out Mac DeMarco-esque guitar solo, ‘My Candlelight’ has an inclusion of a very light piano and string section, and ‘Halo Man’ is a dynamic, synthesizer-heavy finale that’s a perfect send-off to this peculiar, but fantastic record.
‘While They Were Dancing’ is very much including in one’s collection of independent music. It’s a superb record that houses some incredibly good songwriting and composition. The production is noteworthy, too, rounding this experience out as one of the finer efforts in the indie scene thus far this summer.