Nick Huggins? first solo album in four years shows a lot of the same characteristics as the music he’s recorded since then: intimate, clean-cut, unmistakably homespun and pinpricked all over with miniature sonic details. But while his CV is indeed impressive (Otouto, Hello Satellites, Khancoban, Seagull, Kid Sam), here Huggins makes a point of limiting himself to certain instruments and approaches. Mirroring all those low-key musical touches, Huggins uses the record to lovingly reflect on his home of Melbourne and all the tiny moments that hang frozen in time for him.
He describes scenes from his life with fleeting personal detail – from crossing two suburbs on foot (?Hoddle Street?) and the lights of Northcote Plaza (?Hail?) to the road to Geelong (?Diamond?) and an especially surreal New Year’s Eve (?Firework?). Guitar and loops mingle throughout the album, exuding a softly twitchy serenity that recalls The Books. And as delicate as the music are his whisper-weight vocals.
These songs are quiet and modest by design, although Huggins does allow himself some breakout moments. ?But I’m a cockatoo plague of longing,? he intones on ?Golden Hour?, while on ?Hoddle Street? his voice enters only after four minutes of drowsy instrumental pulsing. Fitting for an album closer, ?Outside? traces a subtle rise in tension that culminates in more of a distinct chorus than other songs.
Both in atmosphere and craftsmanship, Huggins is fixated on the small-scale. From their brief titles to their diary-like vignettes, these songs are the polar opposite of bombast, as anyone familiar with Huggins? production work knows already. In its weaker moments Five Lights can be just as ephemeral as its real-life inspirations, but for the most part it’s a lingering portrait of experience acutely examined.