Gold & Red
Nikko’s second album finds miserable solace in relationships on the brink, writes MAX EASTON.
If it takes a certain kind of bravery to be truly sincere, then Brisbane’s Nikko are dangerously unafraid. Instead of feigning apathy and limiting themselves to rough-shod party anthems, Nikko stretch their songs to their very limits, dwelling in the ebbs and flows before dragging a feeling through the mire they just spent three or four minutes creating. Gold & Red, their second album following 2010’s The Warm Side, is soul destroying, finding a miserable solace in dying human relationships, turning to snake oil merchants for salvation and admitting to all past wrongdoings before ashamedly returning to the same bad habits. It’s one thing to tread such harsh emotional territory, but it’s another to do it in such devastating detail.
This is a record so destructive that it begins with the end of the world. ‘The Child’ sees singer-songwriter Ryan Potter intone, “It’s a few drops of poison/A good glass of wine”, before the planet comes down around him. “There’s a burning hole in the sky/Those oil wells are running dry/And the water is gonna rise,” he moans, his band crackling out of the tense beginnings into an overwrought mess of pained guitars and driving keys. However, this is the only time the band take their themes to such a grand scale. Gold & Red sees Nikko spend less time pondering the destruction of humankind as it does peering at humankind itself.
Most of this album is an examination into dead relationships, and strangely for a songwriter, Potter is rarely the one being let down. Instead, a hidden violence hides behind his voice as he breaks the hearts of others. ‘You Are Loved’ plays out as a scathing attack of a soon-to-be former partner. It builds from the twisting analogising of fickle loves (“You are loved like a cat loves its string”) to a love unwanted (“In the way a school girl loves to cry”) before pausing prior to the fall into devastating truth: “You are loved by your family/But not by me.” That’s not to say Nikko are incapable of loving, it’s just not something that ever seems to come easily. The scraping tremor of Adam Cadell’s violin on ‘The Sun Rises’ hints at an emotional tension about to rise to the surface, as Potter tries in vain to bite his tongue: “If you’ve got a good thing going on/It’s hard to keep a good secret.” The once hesitant arrangement thrusts into a cacophonous turmoil that, by this stage in the album, Nikko have mastered.
“If he’s dropping dead, he’s taking no chances on his way into the dirt.”
On lead single ‘Smoke Alarms’, Nikko forego the building tension and eventual cacophony of the rest of the album for a kind of ebbing tranquility. Unlike the emotional sandstorms that surround it, this one is much more subtle, and in its own way, just as devastating. The band come and go, barely present until the final, unwavering acceptance of all that lies around the man at its core. “I haven’t felt it since I was a child/I haven’t felt so helpless for a while /And I think I’m ready to be taken away,” he whimpers, before the band finally does it for him. Ticking off religions and philosophies as varied as reincarnation and Christianity, he belts into an ocean of noise with the repeated call of, “I believe it all.” If he’s dropping dead, he’s taking no chances on his way into the dirt.
Gold & Red is the kind of record that sits readily alongside its contemporaries (Hoodlum Shouts, Charge Group) as much as the acts it takes inspiration from (The Church, Dirty Three). Yet the songs are so strong and delivered with so much conviction that the context is largely unimportant. This is a frighteningly destructive record.