Nat Baldwin

In the Hollows

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Though bassist/songwriter Nat Baldwin's solo music began in avant-garde improvisation and jazz, he eventually found those exploratory impulses filtering into work with a variety of more unconventional indie bands, which in turn may have shifted the focus of his own efforts. Baldwin served as bassist for experimental pop act Dirty Projectors on some of their most well-conceived albums, as well as contributing to recordings by Vampire Weekend, Department of Eagles, and numerous other indie acts that leaned toward chamber pop and unconventional readings of song structure and arrangement. On In the Hollows, Baldwin's sixth solo album and first since 2011's People Changes, his voice floats atop brilliant string arrangements that tap into the same understated magic of the various bands he's been affiliated with but highlight his gift for tense but beautiful songwriting. Baldwin's twisting melodies bear similarities to the meandering vocal style of Dirty Projectors vocalist David Longstreth, but rely far less on the intricate harmonies of that band, choosing to put the emphasis on the singularity of Baldwin's voice. Songs like "Cosmos Pose" dip into moments of harmony, but much stronger tunes like the slinky "Knockout" put Baldwin up front, double-tracking vocals for a line or two rather than sending up spirals of choral pop. What's most striking about In the Hollows is the amount of sound put forth by what amounts to relatively minimal instrumentation. Most songs are based on passionate, surefooted stabs of bowed bass ornamented by occasional help from a string trio and incredibly restrained percussion from drummer Otto Hauser. Baldwin's tunes feel grand and subdued at once, the pristine strings and his chirpy voice filling space brilliantly on songs like "Half My Life" and the quietly epic album closer "A Good Day to Die," the latter of which consists of only voice and a simple repeating bass pattern. In lesser hands, these compositions could feel empty or drag with the extra attention to negative space, but In the Hollows feels remarkably full and captivating. It's easy to hang on every pregnant pause, waiting for the next beautiful wave of strings or yearning vocal. While every bit as spare as some of his previous work, the slow-motion spaciousness of the album feels more rewarding and lasting, ultimately feeling like a guided journey through one soul's season of heavy times and beautiful resolution.

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