Nowicki. – Initiation – Album Review
As comfortable and inviting as many of the songs and sounds that adorn Nowicki.’s Initiation album, it’s quite interesting and entertaining to listen to just how diverse the ideas actually are on this record. On my first spin through it, I felt like I didn’t know what to expect track-to-track as the album played…and personally, I always consider that to be a good thing when it comes to music. At the heart of it all – I don’t really hear too much out there like Nowicki. coming through these speakers that often, a fact that will already tell you there’s a uniqueness in this project that may/may-not work to his advantage. There’s clearly space out there for Nowicki.’s music…people notoriously love music designed for good-times and ultimately, that’s where you’ll find the sound/style of Initiation, which keeps it lighthearted in its attitude and at times, often quite theatrical as well.
I mean…you’re gonna have to listen to it & all to understand this I’m sure…but somewhere in the middle of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Barstool Prophets, The Pursuit Of Happiness and the Fountains Of Wayne…that’s where you’ll find a likeness to the Nowicki. sound. There’s a range of seriousness, professionalism and humor mixed in with a storyteller’s gift in the lyricism and structure of the songwriting. So on the one hand…he’s got a sound that’s definitely a tougher-sell in today’s market…but on that other hand, he’s creating music executed at a high-level, and that’s bound to retain the people who listen. I’m a firm believer that in the current day & age of the ol’ internet, that all styles, genres and sounds still have a long, long life ahead of them…and many stadiums-worth of fans out there spread out across the globe for any kind music; and that if you’re willing to create it – I can guarantee there are people out there that will like or love it just as much as you do. We share those common interests far & wide…and just because something might not fit in with the mainstream ideals doesn’t ever mean that it’s music without merit. Clearly Nowicki. has put a lot of effort into this record, you can hear it from the ideas to the performances to the production as well – and there IS an audience for this out there. Is it more difficult to market and put out there into the world? Without question.
But I’m also a firm believer in being true to yourself and making the records you WANT to make – and I really think that’s what Nowicki.’s managed to do here. If this record doesn’t somehow represent the wild character and personality that is Dennis Lee Nowicki in real-life, I’ll eat my hat. I’m not currently wearing a hat…but I will track one down, put it on my head to prove it’s a hat, remove it, and then consequently consume it if the man himself isn’t just as playful, funny, sincere and passionate as he is in his music.
No need to pass the hot-sauce & I don’t plan on needing a napkin either, thank-you very much.
You can hear the Bachman-esque tone to his vocals on the album’s opening track “All About You” and the playful nature in the music & performance from Nowicki..
Sigh. That’s correct right? It would be two periods because of the period in the actual name right? Grammatically-speaking, this is a damn hard article to write and setting off every alarm I’ve got here in Microsoft Word.
Sorry…where was I? Right…”All About You.” It’s got good energy, it’s got a welcoming sound, I really like the backing-vocals and how they fill in the atmosphere of the chorus with the harmonies so well. Main vocals from Nowicki. do their thang well…it’s a pretty smooth & slick beginning to a record…at times I felt like I might want a bit more aggression or edge to Nowicki.’s vocals in the chorus or energy like he applies to the bridge in the chorus, but on other spins I felt like he played this one right by keeping that moment more chilled-out in the approach and keeping that invitational sound flowing. That all being said I certainly have no complaints about how he sings this one…it’s just an observation from early on that tells me in spots like the bridge of “All About You” that he’s got more to give still, but he’s spot-on for the tone and style he’s looking for in this opener I think. Love the subtle way the lead-guitar steps into the spotlight of “All About You” towards the end in a solo to add some extra punch to the final moments.
The biggest question-mark for me on this album was “Make This Feeling Stay” – this is an odd one to examine. It’s almost the kind of bizarre-pop melody that could just as easily catch on as a viral-hit as it could easily become the stand-out oddity on the record for the way Nowicki. shifts the sound here. Again, it becomes tougher when you listen to the level-execution…he’s doing what he does really well, sounds confident, sounds playful, still sounds welcoming and inviting. My gut tells me that this particular track has him sounding a bit more ‘cruise-ship’ than he might want that island-vibe to come out…so you see what I’m saying? It’s top-notch entertainment in a sense and the lyricism plays well in tandem with the bright attitude in the music…but I think as far as the people out there goes, this cut might narrow the audience a bit. While it still has similarities to Nowicki.’s sound due to the performance-conscious style in the lead-vocals, to me, “Make This Feeling Stay” might have been the candidate to save for a separate release as a single…just wasn’t quite sure it ‘fit’ the record overall.
“The Blade” really reminds me of that hook-laden ability to tell stories in music that the Canadian band Barstool Prophets had back in the 90’s…and I think it’s right about here that the record began to twist itself into something a bit more meaty for the brain to chew on. You get a solid narrative from Nowicki. here…he sounds fantastic as he tackles this one in a spoken word style and really sounds his best in the chorus of “The Blade” and its main-hooks. The guitars sound outstanding in between the verses and provide a seriously tangible atmosphere you can feel through the music and clearly see through the vivid imagery in the storytelling within the songwriting of “The Blade.” It’s undeniably more ‘serious’ in its sound by comparison to the first two songs…but yeah…call me crazy, but this works great in my opinion. I really love the poetic way that Nowicki.’s phrased his lyrics and the way he tells this story is captivating to listen to. It’s got some theatrical & dramatic elements to its sound, movement and style…which I’ll fully admit doesn’t always work for me…but this time it seemed to – I really liked “The Blade” and the way it begins to transition the record into a new chapter of what you’ll hear on Initiation.
I mean…if you CAN’T hear the BTO-influence on a song like “Breakin’ Out” you flat-out don’t know your music-history. At the very least, in the vocal-department…I just think it’s completely audible here…nothing wrong with that when you use the sound well and Nowicki. does – no complaints here, just another observation. He’s got the verses loaded with hooks and focuses here on…well…what makes a relationship ‘work’ or…probably more apt to say what makes a relationship ‘not work.’ “Breakin’ Out” is all about that freedom that comes along with separation for all the right reasons…many of us out there have been there…that relationship you should have left long ago whereby when you finally DO end up “Breakin’ Out” you feel instantly like the best version of yourself. I think this track speaks to that…the pace and strut of the music, the accenting character added in by the piano and guitars all works really well. I’ll say this…it borders on almost too-familiar in a way that I’m not sure if it says enough for what Nowicki. is bringing to the table…like the kind of song that someone out there might wonder if it’s a cover-tune, that kind of familiar. In a way, that works to Nowicki.’s advantage with a sound that’s tried, tested & true to be pretty accessible…in other ways, that familiarity might cause a track like “Breakin’ Out” to get worn out more quickly on the record than the others by comparison.
Where Nowicki. began to really get me onboard was through the song “Dark Blue.” Does it need a bit of a tune-up in a few spots vocally? Probably…but I also think that Nowicki. has unequivocally created one of the hardest songs to sing on the album as well here with “Dark Blue” and nails it at least 95% of the time stunningly. Couple spots here and there that as the song plays on, will make you question a few of the directions the vocals take earlier-on as Nowicki. gets into the moment and picks up the confidence. Understand this…he’s not just singing in his ‘usual’ style here from what we’ve heard on the record prior to this point, he’s switched up his sound and tone altogether to really fit the atmospheric beauty of this song…and I think he’s done an exceptional job on a very challenging part. He puts in a lot of style and tone through a really honest and charming performance that mixes melancholy with sweetness insightfully well, still embracing Nowicki.’s innate ability to create vivid imagery through his words. Love the verse, love the chorus, love the ideas and I love the gentle way that this breakdown in a relationship is described and reborn through that magic of the push-pull of love that we’re all so addicted to. Insightful lyrics…all complemented so perfectly by the subtle nature of the music on “Dark Blue” – from the strings to the synths, piano and delicate beat…for the most-part of this tune, Nowicki. steps out further onto the ledge than ever before at this point on the record, testing out an all-new sound – and succeeds. In my own humble estimation, the slow-jazzy nature of this tune suits him incredibly well.
Okay. What SHOULDN’T have worked for me…or for Nowicki. either lol…is having “Biggleson’s Emporium” coming after “Dark Blue.” These are the polar opposite sounds and styles of the entire musical-universe back-to-back right here…and there is ALWAYS risk in that. What makes this actually work is the fact that, at just past two-minutes in length, “Biggleson’s Emporium” is a seriously cool tune. This would be an example of where I got that Fountains Of Wayne comparison from earlier on in this review…you’ll hear what I mean…simple pop-melody, brilliant storytelling…and somehow…an unbelievable amount of sincerity. You can add something like…Panic At The Disco! into the mix as well – not so much their ‘main’ sound, but those playful interludes they often include on their records and brief departure into something more theatrical…those moments…this is like that, get what I mean? I just think Nowicki.’s done an exceptional job in telling this story through music…love the strings again…but really it is the lyricism that’s on display here that makes it so successful and the way that it’s performed on the vocals. Unexpected entirely…it’s perhaps not a typical ‘song’ in many ways…but it still has artistic appeal working strongly on its behalf and truly offers a different dimension to the record.
“Love Is ‘Round The Corner” flexes some of Nowicki.’s most clever and humorous lyricism and some of the most highlight tones & solos of the guitars that you’ll find on Initiation. Sound-wise, it heads back to the signature playful-rock style in which the album began…it definitely all comes out sounding as comfortable as it does because at the heart of it all, this is likely also the style/sound where Nowicki. himself finds him to be most comfortable…and that translates to our ears. He plays this card well…and I think the amount of times he’s shifted the sound on the record to something new shows he’s not looking to rely solely upon the styles he’s most accustomed to playing. The hooks in the chorus of “Love Is ‘Round The Corner” and lyrics worked really, really well…I thought Nowicki. sang this part perfectly and really made that all shine brightly…he’s right on the edge of Country in many ways on this tune, but it never becomes too much of any one thing. Really easygoing vibe in the execution of this cut.
Sliding into the gentle piano/strings atmosphere of “Conversation,” Nowicki. puts in another highly unique performance on this record, dialing back the energy, focusing on the melody and the beauty in contrast with the lyricism about the deterioration of communication and the musing on the importance of the role that plays in relationships. Lyrically, I trip right out on this one…on paper, it would be really cool to look at because he often rambles through the verses and finds ways to include more details in this story than you’d suspect he has time for, which gives it part of its honest charm. It also gives it incredible contrast to the theme in the lyrics and shows the gift Nowicki.’s got for bringing an idea to life; while the song itself is about silence, he’s almost oversharing throughout the verse in describing the events that create the story. Based on the care I’ve heard so far in the writing on this record, I’d assume that none of this is happening by accident…Nowicki.’s proven himself to be very clever and I think this song really highlights just how smart he can be in his most artistic pursuits. If he’s going to head into combinations of beautiful music on the piano and vividly clear storylines that drip with melody and sincerity…well then…Ben Folds better make some room on that bench he’s sitting on. Nowicki. does a great job of switching effortlessly between spoken-word and extraordinary vocal parts that absolutely soar with perfect tone…”Conversation” is inarguably to me, his most flawless and spot-on performance.
And then…out of NOWHERE…Nowicki. decides to get all kinds of intense on the album’s final track “All Or Nothing.” Talk about saving the fireworks for the end! Heavily laced with an electro-thread and a rise towards the chorus that Trent Reznor would be proud of, big hooks that payoff perfectly as the song rips into the groove…solid guitar solos, excellent atmosphere in this cut that continually envelops the rest with the electro-sound…he really comes alive here at the end of the record. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been plenty lively the whole way through and just as intense in his commitment to each idea as he’s performed them…but you can certainly hear the sparks fly in this final cut. I also think it’s another solid example of how Nowicki. is able to morph his vocal sound to suit the music…he’s left behind the Bachman-esque tone here for something slightly lower and growly that fits this mood much better. Great hooks exist in the verse & chorus, vocals and music…Nowicki. paces himself perfectly to make the impact required at the end of a record, making this last track a memorable moment through powerful hooks you’ll remember…and potentially leaving us with a glimpse of what might come next from this highly versatile artist.
Find the Nowicki. album Initiation at CD Baby here: http://cdbaby.com/cd/nowicki2