Reviews

Nobody: Vivid Green


Elvin Estela has to be aware of all the jokes that come with operating under the alias of Nobody-- it'd be pretty unsurprising if it turned out that's one of the main reasons he chose it. As a producer, his output has ridden more on the personalities of collaborators and scene compatriots than any specific character statement of his own. And the irony is that his music often feels like it comes from somewhere rather than someone. For better or worse, there's an enigmatic bubbling-up and reconfiguration of half-recalled instrumental hip-hop and beat music ideas about that feels like it can fit in a movement, but less as a driving force than a mysterious insinuation.

If that means immediacy and instant cheap thrills are sacrificed, that's a risky cost, but there's something to be said for blurry background music that comes into deep focus when you least expect it. Vivid Green is the latest Nobody album to explore the pleasures of subtlety and long-soak immersion, a breezy but not inconsequential recliner-beat suite with a warm-weather glow to it. There's an inert, vague sort of beauty that you have to meet halfway here, a naggingly familiar yet unplaceable assemblage that often feels like it has to be completed by the pre-existing experiences a deep listener might already have. 

The album's emphasis on low-key ambience doesn't keep things from knocking here and there. Airy melodies and weighty drum breaks mix well on a handful of early album tracks, like the liquid flutter of "Third Charm", the faucet-drip on a drumhead rumble of "Pentwater", or "Flat Black" and its subterranean cavern echo. Few of his instrumentals really come alive with an emotional heft that rises above calm head-nod reverie, the slowly cresting, invigorating triumph of the title track being a welcome exception. But like a mild narcotic or a one-pint buzz, it does feel attuned to the potential of just slightly amplifying the mellow-high qualities of an already pleasant surrounding. It's a precarious balance, and going too far in either direction between preciousness and aggression jostles things off the track a bit. The twee synth-baroque "Rhombus" sounds like the soundtrack to one of the more boring plot-advancement cutscenes in a mid-90s Playstation RPG, and when the record's subtle nods to trap get a bit too unsubtle on the horn-blat bombast of "Rex", it's hard not to hear it as an out-of-place caricature. But those mood-breaking moments are more outliers than dealbreakers, weird diversions on an otherwise consistently bucolic record.

Bucolic doesn't always make for exciting, though, which is why it's a good thing Nobody's tapped into his collaborative impulses and recruited a few vocalists to bolster the ranks and ink in the lines that the music too often simply sketches out. Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala provides his voice to "Our Last Dance", which isn't exactly the prog-crossover move that one might expect -- it's a woozily soulful, borderline mournful downtempo psychedelic synthpop dirge that hints at either a breakup or a death but might as well be about both. Teri Gender Bender (of Bosnian Rainbows) and Anna Wise (of Sonnymoon and the hook to Kendrick Lamar's "Real") let their enigmatic, melody-distorting qualities pierce the half-awake goth-soul of "Sleeping Alone" and the disassociated Stephen Hawking namechecking g-dub of "Spliff!" And even if its oceanside summer vibe couldn't fit anywhere but the album's high-note end, the Baths-coproduced "Beaches" is a choice moment, featuring a turn from Project Blowed battle-rap vet Nocando that flips convincingly between downpitched reefer-smoke zone-out and straight-up lovestruck devotion. Let it all sink in -- it'll come to you soon enough.