Much like a poem, Current Joys’ ‘A Different Age’ possesses everything from disappointment, cynicism and heaviness, to quiet energy and celebration.
Nick Rattigan can just about do it all: he’s a singer-songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist, the drummer and lead singer of indie-surf band Surf Curse, and a music video director. Over the years, he’s released music as The Nicholas Project (2011-2012), then as TELE/VISIONS (2013-2015) and thereafter as Current Joys (which has marked a shift in his musical style), releasing an album in 2015 and following up with A Different Age (released 3/2/18 via Danger Collective Records).
What has remained consistent over these years of name changes and stylistic shifts is the immense and unique potential and talent that Rattigan seems to possess. If there’s one thing you can trust him to do, it’s to make really good music – manifesting itself in his excellent songwriting, in his vivid instrumentation, and his uncommon video-direction.
It’s this immensity that he brings to A Different Age, a record that’s hard to put away long after you’ve stopped listening to it.
Listen: A Different Age – Current Joys
“Become the Warm Jets”
“Become the Warm Jets” sets the mood for the album, sprawling over a guitar that is almost contemplative. It fuses with scratching vocals that seem to be set at a distance – mournful, full of longing, words stretched over the slow-marching beat. The track invites the listener to drift into A Different Age, introspective as it meanders through well-penned lyrics such as “All my life is something I can’t ignore / Consumed and enthused by all that came before.” Hazy, organ-like music is on mute and a rushing sound brings the song to a soft end.
Watch: “Become the Warm Jets” – Current Joys
There’s a steady beat here, guitar work reminiscent of Brand New’s instrumentation on their 2006 album The God and Devil Are Raging Inside Me (specifically their track “Jesus Christ”). It sounds as if “Fear” was pulled out of an indie-drama soundtrack. The instrumental interlude between verses is beautiful, receding and rising at intervals, lending a structure. Layered repetition steers the track into a soft, abrupt ending. “It’s so hard to stop the rain” and “Starts out golden but never stays” are two of the lyrical statements that stick out, indicating the inevitability of change and capturing the sheer human inability to fight it in a strangely haunting upbeat tune that is only then half a lament.
Watch: “Fear” – Current Joys
Rattigan counts us in and as “Alabama” drifts into being quietly, it gives us some of the most ironic and self-aware lyrics on this record: “I became someone else / which doesn’t require a lot of thought / just a little noise and decay.” There’s no dearth of perceptive writing, yet much of this song’s beauty comes from its poetic lyricism. The track carries a dismal tone, exposing a tiredness and a want for leaving, for disappearing. The strings remain melancholic in the background, like a sad ending playing out, unable to stop itself. And if the listener listens close enough, there’s a vulnerability here, raw and sincere, without any pretense.
“Beyond the seas and highways / None of the stars know my name” might as well be a line out of a confessional poem, almost a Plathsian echo. Whether hinting at a desire for anonymity or at the idea of ordinary-ness in the view of the stars – the awareness of a cosmic power far beyond a human one – “Alabama” is a ballad unfolding without any hurry, pondering over itself. At its own pace, without any drumming, the strings pull themselves high before “Alabama” shuffles fadingly to its end.
Watch: “Alabama” – Current Joys
“Way Out Here”
Tumbling sounds of distorted wind and conversational chatter fall away into Rattigan’s soothing guitar, inviting us into “Way Out Here.” The electric guitar is plucked away at, strings forming the softer, more aching part of the background.
If you want to leave me
Will you leave me in your mind?
And think of me some evening
In the evening of our lives
‘Cause the way I am keeps changing
And I just need a little time
‘Cause the sentiment of feelings
Leads to ordinary lives and I want mine
With no drums and only the hum of layered chords to drive it forward, the song meanders over feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, throwing up remarkable images like “the evening of our lives” and phrases like “the sentiment of feelings leads to ordinary lives.” A relatively short and musically simple track, “Way Out Here” is soft and touching, giving precedence to the rough, almost bare vocals and therefore allowing listeners the indulgence of feeling close to the artist, as if to glimpse him somewhere in this song.
Watch: “Way Out Here” – Current Joys
This is an instrumental track, one that is exquisitely put together. A lulling beat fits with the mournful repetition of a guitar chord, the light tapping of the cymbal giving the song a windchime-like quality. Swarming sounds emerge, only to disappear into the guitar. There’s a gradual buildup as layer meets layer, compelling parallels with Explosions in the Sky. It’s almost as if the listener is shuttled off into another dimension, through space and beyond time.
“No Words” is infinitely mellow, unfolding surprise after surprise, shifting into a tunneling sound that drags into and out of the track as if experimenting or hesitant in the same near-bleak mood as the songs that have come before it. Strings surge in briefly at around 3:50, high-pitched and just short of being a screech, sudden and spiraling.
Further on, the song seems prolonged, almost like a scream and nearly as ominous, bringing forth an odd and bizarre feeling jarring to the listener and yet, of such comfort. It returns shyly to its original tone once more, sluggish as the sound fades away.
Watch: “No Words” – Current Joys
“In a Year of 13 Moons”
The title may be referring to a 1978 film with the same name. Here, hopeful acoustic guitar meets Rattigan’s scratching vocals in a strange melding of feeling. Brimming with insight that is strewn across the first few lines of the song (“you realize that it’s all the same / people learn a lot in difficult ways / they’re out there calling your name / there’s not much left time can rip away” ), it’s the following bridge that presents the listener with a pleasant surprise.
As Rattigan sings “How long must I wait?”, he hits a high note, an auditory treat that is as soothing as it is different. There’s a sense that the song is dealing with some kind of ending, as if missing someone or something. Once more, in the second bridge, his high note lends a pitched sentimentality, a personal pain to what would have been just another well-written line. The song draws to an end over the guitar picking up as “waiting for the moon–” is stretched on a cacophony of chords, dropping off into silence, only an echo as Rattigan finishes: “–to change”
Watch: “In A Year of 12 Moons” – Current Joys
“A Different Age”
“A Different Age” is the titular track of the album, superbly written and impeccably put together. The dreamy guitar intro brings to mind a slowed down, drugged out version of Brand New’s music (yet again!). Raw and vulnerable – moments when Rattigan is at his best both instrumentally and lyrically, perhaps – the track is sharp and perceptive, offering a defeated kind of wisdom, its dynamic shifting direction away from the tracks preceding it.
Oh, you don’t know me, ‘cause I’m from a different age
And you can’t see me, ‘cause I live in a different age
And you could hurt me,
but you wouldn’t know what to say
But you should believe me,
our dreams are all the same
Like a life without love
God, that’s just insane
But a love without life
Well, that just happens every day
And I wish I could change,
but I’ll probably just stay the same
The poignancy of “Like a life without love / God, that’s just insane” is met with the heavy cynicism of “But a love without life / Well, that just happens every day,” offering both the beautiful and the dismal to the listener. The awareness of “I wish I could change, but I’ll probably just stay the same” is equal parts of maturity and loss, almost hitting too close to the belt.
“This song is a joke and the melody I wrote, wrong!” is where the track diverts from the ones that come before it. Rattigan’s voice changes, louder and angrier as the contemplation of earlier tracks – passive and quiet – shifts into an active charge, an accusation levelled both against himself and the listener. “All the poets are writing memoirs and I’m still singing songs” seems to catalogue a kind of failing, a fear that while the “poets” write their “memoirs,” he’s “still singing songs,” as if he’s missing out, as if he’s been left behind. Is this creative anxiety or something harder to identify, something more complex?
Rattigan’s “Different Age” is an ode to disillusionment, where he is “still writing songs” and there’s “nothing left here” for anybody else – suggesting that even as things around him have changed, he’s already “done it all” and this Different Age is not really different to him. It’s “useless,” and ultimately it’s the bitterness of “the song is a joke” that brings cynical disappointment to the fore.
Beats and cymbals crash as the rush builds a steady pace and it feels like something coming to a close. “A Different Age” rushes to overwhelm the listener, drowning them in a gushing stream as layers settle into layers, swamped quickly into a sharp ending, a perfect and snappish auditory disappearance.
Watch: “A Different Age” – Current Joys
“My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days”
The song title is also the title of a 1989 French drama film and it’s plausible (if not inevitable) that the track takes its cue from the film, whose main character, Lucas, is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The sentiment of inevitability is what lingers in the lyrics throughout, and regret is potent in Rattigan’s distinct vocals. An undercurrent of fear runs through the track, reflected in lyrics like “it feels like a new disease / it’s gone through all the things I knew / and soon, it’ll come for me“ and “cause I’m too young to be / part of a dying breed.“
The idea of grappling with a certainty like death – a consequence of being terminally ill – is what forms the backbone of this track, almost elegiac in nature as Rattigan sings: “there’s no easy way to say / that I’m leaving you behind.” It’s his parting lament “can you hear me drifting away?” that compounds the character’s misery, both in the film as Lucas and in the song as a narrator; a glaring foreknowledge of the end that is to come and how bleak it appears to be, just as the soft drumbeat is joined by synthesizer chords like muted versions of a church organ and just as haunting. This ending segment brings to mind similar multi-instrumentalist alternative geniuses like Mitch Welling (Flatsound) and celebrated duo-act Matthew Cothran and Delaney Mills (Elvis Depressedly).
“My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days” fades into a shuddering hum, fading away, like a light having gone out.
Watch: “My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days”
There’s a recording of fireworks and laughter right at the beginning of the track, and we return to contemplative strumming again, guitar chord echoing in the space between sentences. The lyrics are more spoken than sung, like a poem – which is essentially what this entire album is anyway – and that is why perhaps the impact of them is different. They’re more pertinent and more pressing than if they were put in a tune, fit into the strictures of a specific rhythm or a beat.
‘Cause all I really need is somebody to break my heart
Cut into my bones and tear me apart
All I really need is somebody to drive me insane
And feel that one more time before the feeling goes away
The ironic if not self-destructive need for love despite (or perhaps only because of) how consuming and awful it often turns out to be is a sentiment that Rattigan dwells on, asking for “somebody” to “break” his heart and “cut” into his “bones,” offering himself up to the mercy of “the feeling” before it “goes away.” There is both defeat and triumph in that.
Rattigan’s crooning over the reverb, in between his verses, is shaky and soft, belying the certainty of his lyrics, masterfully adding another layer to the track and therefore allowing it a different kind of complexity. It is tender and sharp all at once, obscured by the guitar but not fully inaudible; the presence of Rattigan there with us throughout, either in word or in sound.
And the faster we go, the longer we’ll never last
And the radio keeps saying life’s a gas
It’s a daunting task to pick apart lyrics, especially Rattigan’s – whose penmanship is often the glowing highlight of the album – but “Fox” is one track where nearly every line is heavy with insight. “Life’s a gas” is one beautifully terrible way of indicating how short-lived life itself is – how, like gas, it may simply up and disappear, as weightless and formless, without any anchors to keep it steady. Even love, it seems, is not enough – “the faster we go, the longer we’ll never last” is a cynical claim but not an unrealistic one.
‘Cause you and I were just like the rain
We never mean to fall but we do it anyways
And just as we came we’ll go away
‘Cause you and I, we’re just like the rain
There’s a mulling kind of beauty to this concluding verse, dipping into how “we never mean to fall but we do it” and “just as we came, we’ll go away” because “we’re just like the rain” – a picture that is as painful as it is pretty. Rain does come, alluring and reassuring upon its arrival, but it cannot stay and its departure is inevitable. Like all things, it is short lived: once it has come, it must also then go. It is a metaphor almost too suitable – just as we arrive, so we must depart, with only small moments of “falling” (love) to keep us steady between the grief of birth to the grief of death, the by-products of our impossible but inherently human condition.
Watch: “Fox” – Current Joys
As mentioned earlier, A Different Age is no different than a poem. Its meaning changes every time one is fortunate enough to listen to it, unfolding like a strange bout of longing for something that has left long ago and lingering long enough with a listener to make them want to come back. Despite the muted hues of disappointment, cynicism and heaviness, there’s a sense of energy, a small undercurrent of celebration as if the glimpses of Rattigan that we’ve caught along the way might finally yield the comfort we seek as we turn to his music. As track after track unfolds, like a verse in a poem, riddled with metaphor and sentiment, it leaves listeners tender and bruised and yet – all the more better for it.
:: stream/purchase A Different Age here ::
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? © Olivia Hemaratanatorn