It seems like a long time since we last had an album from Nana Grizol. Seven years have passed since Ruth, and fans could be forgiven for wondering whether the project, lead by Theo Hilton, would ever release another record. But then, almost out of the blue (at least to me), the band announced a brand new album, Ursa Minor, on Athens, Georgia label Orange Twin Records.
All that said, we’ve heard ‘Nightlights I’ before, on a four-song EP from 2014. The track is the perfect reintroduction to Nana Grizol, Hilton delivering his trademark carefree, heart-on-sleeve poetics on the bewildering and beautiful nature of life and love. When Orange Twin Records describe the NG sound as “a potent mix of revved up melodic folk punk, laced with intricate horn arrangements and sleazy, ripping guitars,” this is exactly what they’re getting at, a kind of sweet and sour blend that lends the music its organic energy. “It alternates between contemplative, beautiful folk arrangements and blasting rock and roll,” the label continues. “Often within the same song.”
‘Bright Cloud’ feels equal parts contented and wistful, all horn exclamations and lyrics exploring growing up, changing in some ways but not others and, most of all, hopes and visions of family. Things are reassuringly classic on ‘Mississippi Swells’, a driven indie pop song jam-packed with unpretentious musings and light-based imagery—glowing cities viewed from planes and a metaphorical flashlight pointed towards an uncertain future. The track captures what Nana Grizol have always been best at, a stream of consciousness-style lyricism that fuses laidback casualness and deadly sincerity, confronting pain and injustice with a heady sense that all can be well in the world.
The title of ‘Photos from When We Were Young’ tells you all you need to know, conjuring that magically bittersweet feeling of finding a box of Polaroids at the back of a closet. The song is a mixture of fond nostalgia and real pain, sharing both memories of both good times and the trials of growing up knowing you’re different from what’s expected. From the hazy opening verses, with lines like “some sweet recollection of redwoods and raspberry vines /of boys you wrote postcards to numerous times,” to the more directly regretful:
“And I think of you when I put on your old clothes
We don’t talk all that often, who ever does?
But I’ll visit you soon and sing you a tune
About finding a family somewhere in the ruins”
‘Nightlights II’ has a Modern Baseball vibe, lean and dynamic and breathlessly untethered, like running flat-out along an abandoned highway, while ‘Tacoma Centre 1600’ is a song inspired by a private immigration prision Hilton visited during a protest. “‘Tacoma Center 1600’ is about the Northwest (deportation) Detention Center, a really terrible place run by a terrible company called GEO”, Hilton explains on the Nana Grizol Bandcamp page. “I had gone there for a protest and saw how it was nestled in an old industrial park, with all these billboards around advertising lawyers and politicians and whatever. I really wanted to write about how clearly there were these forces coming together and wrecking people’s lives.”
With such ideas in mind, Nana Grizol’s kindness is seen in its true light, not some twee construct but a deep human empathy, and the final song, ‘Window’, is one of the most reserved and heartfelt tracks on the record. It feels like one final reminder, a gentle word in our ears before the end.
“But yeah I’m trying to drop this habit of always apologizing
This patterns is a trap, it’s agonizing
Only I will make it go away
So we can lift them
And focus on the moments that we live in
Leave apprehensions and the headaches that they’ve given
My heart beats, it has better things to say”
On Ursa Minor, Nana Grizol return as if they’ve never been away. These intricately woven narratives somehow manage to explore not only personal themes of family and relationships, but also national/global ones too. Whether it’s a sign of the band maturing or just a reflection of these politically toxic times is besides the point, the message being that we have to stand up for others on both a personal and wider level, that there are many ways to be kind and accepting, all of which are worthwhile and, more than that, important.
You can get Ursa Minor now from the Orange Twin Records Bandcamp page.