Isolation offers room for our thoughts to wander. A long quiet car ride, a walk in the forest, or even the few peaceful moments of a morning shower, can trap you in a world of self-realization. On his debut EP, Tragic Magic, Night Bus Revival (the creative project of Nils Dylan), embraces the solitude that came from a move from bustling London to the more rustic Midlands of the UK. The album was spontaneously recorded as the artist felt inspired, giving its introspection a unique authenticity.
In Night Bus Revival’s musings, we find that clarity is honest, but not always joyous. All 5 tracks on the EP are distinctive explorations of anxiety, restlessness, and melancholy. “Brand New Estate” is a lyrical highlight, as the storyteller explores his existence and wonders aloud if there’s a place for him in the world. The song feels like it’s being sung by an outsider who is always on the edge of fitting in. The lyrics are reminiscent of early Springsteen while the clashing acoustic instrumentation presents the morose discord of a Suitcase Junket track. In contrast, “Nowhere” slips into the comfort of seclusion, but ponders whether solitude brings the escape that the singer envisioned. The two songs highlight the artist’s struggle to find personal balance.
The album’s greatest strength is that it refuses to fit within the confines of our concept of folk music. Ambient noise, electronic hum, and that extra dose of angst in the vocals give Tragic Magic its delightful edge. It combines the ruminating style of Gregory Alan Isakov, with the quirk of Bon Iver, and the glow heard on gentler works from JJ Grey and Mofro. Album closer, “2:47am on the hotel bathroom floor,” starts and ends with glitchy electronic effects. In the middle, Night Bus Revival pours forth the most emotionally raw lyrics of the album, as layered vocals punctuate a chaotic and fragile mental state:
Days they go easier/If we don’t speak/Soon I haven’t seen your face for weeks/Months they go easier if I don’t think/I start unravelling when I drink
Tragic Magic feels like a diary, turned to poetry, which in turn is set to music. No words are wasted; no filler added to make it radio friendly; no anthemic choruses for beer-soaked concert singalongs. Instead, the album is built on emotional hooks–embracing the weight of life through an exploration of sadness, doubt, and loneliness.
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