Liam Finn

The Nihilist

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Liam Finn has never been afraid to embrace the quirky side of his music, and his albums I'll Be Lightning and Fomo boasted their fair share of intriguing creative left turns, but 2014's The Nihilist is where he dives headfirst into his aural eccentricities and truly makes the studio his playground. Much of Finn's solo work has found him recording as a one-man band, but he pushes the possibilities of overdubbing himself far past his previous boundaries on this album; "Arrow," "4 Track Stomper," "Snug as Fuck," and the title track vaguely recall Prince's studio work of the '80s, not so much in terms of grooves but in the way Finn layers synths and drum patterns (some real, some programmed) against his falsetto vocals. Elsewhere, "Helena Bonham Carter" sounds like some lost new wave classic with its vintage electronics and off-kilter funk accents, "Wild Animal" suggests a summit meeting between the Rolling Stones and Guided by Voices, and "Wrestle with Dad" is a fun-house nightmare of wailing guitars, pitch-altered vocals, stomping drum boxes, and keyboard squeals. The Nihilist doesn't have a great deal to do with the more organic approach of Finn's earlier work, but this sure sounds like one man's vision, expressed with a bold enthusiasm, and just as he seemed like a gifted pop craftsman before, he sounds like a visionary here, pouring dozens of ideas and perspectives into an aural blender and letting the various ingredients season one another to impressive effect. And while Finn wrote all 12 songs, produced the sessions, and plays most of the instruments, he does get some valuable help from vocalist Eliza Jane Barnes, drummer Elroy Finn, and Jol Mulholland's bass and synthesizers. A few of Liam Finn's fans may be a bit puzzled by the more outré experiments on The Nihilist, but he's still writing great tunes and bringing them to life in an exciting way, and that -- as much as the musical shape-shifting on these sessions -- is what makes this album worthwhile.

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