Zac Nelson’s New Once is a very strange record indeed. While his sound is unarguably psychedelic through-and-through, he has mostly turned his back on the contemporary psy-rock fascination with epic song lengths and repetitive jam-based structures, and instead given us a collection of songs that are short and sharp and yet packed full of movement and ear-candy. However, while this approach harks back to the psy-rock of yore, and while Nelson unarguably tips his hat to the bands and artists who have preceded him, New Once is no pastiche or homage but something that sounds both old and new at the same time. It may tread a similar same path as both its antecedents (Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, The Beatles circa The White Album, etc.) and its contemporaries (Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips, Liars, and so on), but its stride is very different.
This is chiefly because of Nelson’s ear for melody and economy of effort: clear vocal lines and definite song structures are the key to New Once, and yet Nelson effortlessly weaves into this almost pop-ish approach a distinct weirdness that is all his own; while the majority of the songs get straight-to-the-point and don’t drag things out, and yet somehow never feel rushed. No whether it’s combining jagged and cyclic guitar lines with an unhurried and no-frills drumbeat that Charlie Watts would be proud of; or balancing pounding 3/4 drums and step-by-step 5/4 keyboard lines; or blending a softly-strummed acoustic guitar with atonal electronics; Nelson’s voice(s) and melody lines cut through easily and dominate the songs, holding the weirdness together and providing an obvious and often beautiful focus. And the melodies themselves are never boring, moving between simple sing-along phrases and more complicated vocal patterns based on shifting time-signatures oddly drawn-our pronunciations, and yet all the while proving catchy enough to perhaps best be described as Earworm City.
If you’re after balls-out weirdness or full-on noise, then New Once isn’t for you. But if you’re after something that’s both weird and almost-simple, something that’s both mellow and exiting, something that’s relaxed but never boring and deeply textured but never overwhelming, then do yourself a favour and tune into Nelson’s vibe.