When you can’t find a way to describe the sound or vibe to someone without pausing to hunt for descriptors, you know you’ve stumbled upon something fresh. In this case, it’s the new experimental work of Naytronix, a.k.a. Nate Brenner, the multi-talented vocalist and composer best known for his work as co-producer and bassist for one of our favorite acts, tUnE-yArDs. Concocted in the duo’s Oakland studio (BotCave Records), the third full-length Naytronix album – due for release tomorrow – is a tantalizing ten-track trip entitled Air. In addition to being stick-in-your-head good, it’s filled with rich contrasting elements: it’s fast-paced and bold, yet measured and contemplative; it’s synth-driven and futuristic, yet emotive and human; thematically, it’s a tug-of-war between super chill beats and existential dread.
The perceptible theme that humans are villainous and precipitating our own demise reportedly comes from Brenner having read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind while working on the album. “I feel like the author might hate that his book inspired my album, but it’s true!” he said recently. Brenner was also working on Air while Oakland suffered from the infamous Camp Fire, the whole city smothered in smoke and forced to take cover – which seems to have inspired the album’s name – and there’s a lot of tension present that surely stems from this horrifying reality. While Brenner truly shines in solo form, you can sense that there are fingerprints of other talented folks throughout Air. Mixed by Jonas Verwijnen at Kaiku Studios Berlin and mastered by Sarah Register in NYC, the record features contributions from fellow Bay Area musicians, including percussionist Hamir Atwal (tUnE-yArDs’ touring drummer), songwriter Madeline Kenney, guitarist Mark Allen-Piccolo, Mwahaha’s Ross Peacock (synth and co-production) and even tUnE-yArDs goddess Merrill Garbus (vocals and co-production).
Air’s pensive mood and multifaceted grooves are set by opening track “I’m Becoming You.” It’s not clear what the distorted voice at the beginning is saying (or who it belongs to – theories?), but what’s entirely clear is how hypnotically cool the whole record is going to be. It surges right into the moody and dark urban vibes of “Actor in My Favorite Show,” a song that establishes some of his recurring themes (last track “Movie” seems to be connected). Its confidence is great contrast with the next bass-laden track, “Come Back,” in which Brenner requests, “Please don’t try to warn me / please don’t try to break my fall.” The first single released from Air, it also comes with a dazzling stop-motion video that is as attention-grabbing as the soundscape he creates.
Brenner’s artfully-exposed emotions also surface in “Swallow The Moon,” a song that’s more stripped-down and certainly more melancholy, as Brenner expresses his desire to escape a world in which “we don’t belong” for the one in his mind. But it flows with upbeat energy from its crisp percussion and nice piano layers. Then “Changing You” continues that energetic mood, all while Brenner explains how it feels to be “forever in a plastic home.” Following suit, “Pattern,” one of the melodic songs from Air that really stays in your brain, includes the eerie-yet-catchy line, “My innocence is made of blood,” its prose heavy and thoughtful, but its sound as light as feathers. There’s more intense bass and lush piano to come on “Human,” an introspective psych-pop treat with one of those cinematic melodies that makes you feel like you’ve fallen into a film about your own life.
“Dead Bird” pops as one of the big standouts on Air. It’s tUnE-yArDs-y in a wonderful way (that’s high praise as we’re adoring fans), and its dark lyrics – “I fell into the trap / fell into the trap / the beauty of a dead bird / beauty of a dead bird” – are delivered very calmly over a hit-the-dancefloor kind of beat, Brenner reflecting upon greed and humanity’s desire for money. The sonic intrigue continues with “I Feel Strange,” a song that begins with a metallic sound that tolls like a bell, setting a mysterious scene before his mellow melody enters over a drum-machine flurry; in fact, it’s the only song that’s all drum machines. Drum machines tangle with real-life drumming from Atwal throughout the other tracks on Air; in “I’m Becoming You,” for example, real drums enter in the chorus; on “Come Back,” it’s only drum machines in the first verse and chorus, then Atwal enters on real drums in the second verse.
There are many interesting moments packed into this kaleidoscopic record, so it’s hard to pick favorites, but Brenner chose a gem of a closer with “Movie.” During this super-chill 70s-esque jam, he sings, “It’s raining dreams / It feels just like in a movie” – and it really does feel that way. It’s the kind of song that nods to a few classic sounds in just the right ways, but has so many original embellishments that it’s clearly its own thing. On the whole, Air itself is dripping with psychedelic nostalgia, but so mod and multi-layered that you can tell it was built in this era. Of course, this makes it stand out even more compared to all that mindless-fluff-pop clogging up the genre these days; Brenner’s work is brilliant and lightyears away on the other end of the spectrum. Air is not only sonically creative, but utterly good-vibey. And it’s accessible experimental, maintaining great momentum without ever spiraling away out of reach. We can’t wait to catch Naytronix live and watch his discography continue to grow; given that Brenner calls Naytronix his “part-time job” and the ever-touring tUnE-yArDs his “full-time job,” we wish we could give this guy some extra hours in the day to let his imagination run wild.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley