You probably haven’t heard of Nadia Reid. But this indie New Zealander has crafted a folk album that is simple and low-key, with an optimistic tone. That trio could be an insult in rock or pop, but in folk music, it makes for one of my favorite albums so far this year.
That optimistic tone should not, however, indicate that this is a pop-driven record. The lyrics are, at times, quite somber, even if in a bittersweet way. It’s driven very much by independent and folk sensibilities, with many of the tracks thriving on little more than an acoustic guitar and Nadia’s vocals. That seems like a very intentional choice, as this is a very personal record. Preservation is Reid’s second LP, and one that contains a lot of ruminations about trying (and failing) to find love, but in a way that leaves her more satisfied with herself at the end than at the beginning.
“Part of this new album is sitting with the way I am, alone, and feeling OK about it,” she said in an interview with the UK magazine Mojo. That comes through a lot on this record, especially the “feeling OK about it” part. For example, while the title track (which is also the album opener) ruminates on a relationship that is ending, she still expresses confidence that “I know I will find one to hold on to.” Elsewhere, even in ending relationships, she says “Your love brought me closer to Heaven.” The album doesn’t always keep the right perspective in these instances – she once says “It’s the lies we tell that keep us safe in younger years,” and on “The Arrow and the Aim” uses a swear word to express her distaste for a particular ex. As a whole, however, Preservation thematically represents a mature, forward-moving approach to past relationships, much contrary to the typical culture of hate for exes that fuels radio singles. In fact, in the song “Reach My Destination,” she employs a Christian analogy to communicate this forward momentum, with the line “Onward we go marching, Christian soldiers.”
This melancholy optimism is expressed through a musicality that is compelling in its refreshing simplicity. While breaking from the typical pop structure of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, her music feels more like an intimate story, and not at all like a vie for radio airtime. At times this folk sensibility can be a bit dry (such as in the album opener, unfortunately), but most of the time it brings a cohesive, nostalgic atmosphere with a peaceful, melodic flow.
That the album has a cohesive sound is not to say that it is repetitive or dull. As compared to the simple acoustic nature of the opener, there’s the minor-key electric guitar of “The Arrow and the Aim,” the drum-driven rhythm of “Richard,” and the patient, somber pace of “Te Aro.” The aforementioned melancholy tone with an optimistic momentum is hard to get across on an emotional level from a vocalist, but Reid does so with surprising maturity. The diversity of the music makes the cohesive tone of the album even more impressive, and shows a level of artistry that’s not always commonplace in the music industry. It’s for this reason that The Guardian called the album “lovelorn folk with dirt under its nails,” a line that I think beautifully describes the appeal this album has for me.
In short, it’s rare that I find an album that is almost entirely exploring love life. Most artists don’t have anything new to say on the topic, and what they do say tends to be shallow and repetitive. But Nadia Reid’s mature approach, and her equally mature sound, make this one of the better folk albums released in recent years, and one that deserves a place on your playlist.