Review: Cedric Noel Tackles Loss & Acceptance on Stirring Album ‘Nothing Forever, Everything’

Cedric Noel © Isaac Vallentin
Cedric Noel © Isaac Vallentin
Ethereal layers and expanses of space coalesce on ‘Nothing Forever, Everything’ for a sonic match that dives the depths of Cedric Noel’s words.

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Listen: ‘Nothing Forever, Everything’ – Cedric Noel

Cedric Noel’s watch runs differently than yours. Yes, there’s a hand for minutes and one for hours, but if that watch could feel, it’d be wistful as it took note of how things pass.  The watch would be busy, well, watching, because Noel is rarely still—but sometimes, the results don’t come quick enough for the Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist. The act of recording something today that you felt a year ago seems antithetical to what music is about for Noel: “For me, it is about documenting a moment—maybe a day or maybe the last four months—but that feeling has to be within that moment. Oftentimes, if I’m recording it a year later, it doesn’t quite feel the same anymore—like it’s hard to capture that energy of the quote unquote demo.”

Nothing Forever, Everything - Cedric Noel
Nothing Forever, Everything – Cedric Noel

That’s why, one night, he decided to record an album. Yes, just like that. He was clearing the creative pipes, exploring his world through the medium he knows best. He had the rough structures in his phone’s voice memos and decided it was time to put them to good use. After finishing up a three year recording cycle with a close friend, he wanted something quick and fun. Says Noel: “I just want to make something for the sake of making it.”

Nothing Forever, Everything is a sparse, atmospheric, eight-track offering. Written and recorded  across two evenings and starring Montreal heavyweights Michael Feuerstack, Tim Crabtree (Paper Beats Scissors) and Corey Gulkin, it’s an album to get lost in. Loaded full of ethereal layers cut with expanses of space you can swim in, the music dives to the depths of Noel’s words.

Nothing Forever, Everything, makes the blood rush to your head—like a sharp exhale when you didn’t even know you were holding your breath. “I feel like it’s just a release of a lot of weight that I probably carried for a long time,” Noel says. “Even if it’s this little thing, it felt like a big release at the time.”

The idea for the LP spawned one night at a gig, where Noel’s own thoughts and someone else’s music coalesced into a seed that he desperately needed to bloom. “I was watching my friend play and he has a lyric in a song of his that is sort of the same. It has ‘nothing’ and ‘forever’ and ‘everything’ in some kind of order. I just wrote it down when I was watching him play—often I will write down something that I think is a good album title.”

“I was thinking a lot about death, a lot about things ending,” Noel continues. “And I just thought that that was a good mantra to remember that nothing does last, but that there’s sort of a beauty in that, hopefully.”

Cedric Noel © Isaac Vallentin
Cedric Noel © Isaac Vallentin

Death is everywhere—even when the world wasn’t shut down—and yet, it’s still a heavy taboo most prefer to ignore, socially at least. “If you’re human then you think about death. I think we think about death more than we talk about it,” says Noel. “I was thinking about how I’m essentially an adult now, I’m turning 29, and I don’t feel like I’ve had that many conversations— real conversations—about how people are scared about death, or how people feel about it. Some people seemingly aren’t afraid or don’t think about it too much, but it’s something that looms over everything and seems to be the reason why we have a lot of issues—and great things in our lives as well.”

This theme snakes through the grass of the album’s eight tracks, mingling with words and tones: The grim reaper hiding behind Noel’s synth, his scythe tucked discreetly behind the amps. “It’s definitely a through line. I don’t think it necessarily has to be in every song, but yes, it’s definitely throughout,” adds Noel.

The willingness to talk about it at all—even in Noel’s guarded, metaphorical way—makes you ask yourself some tough questions, creating a lingering self-reflection that only the most moving pieces of art can cause.

The title track—the last on the album and the last one recorded—encapsulates this idea.

Noel’s favourite track, its gentle acoustic guitars interplay effortlessly. Noel’s deep, swooning voice slowly parses his pain while it steadily builds to the refrain:

Doesn’t it get better when you know the truth?
Letting go gets easier as you fade away from view
Isn’t it hard? “No, I don’t think so!”
Letting love in: “I’m trying my hardest!”
Nothing forever, everything
Everything forever, nothing
Forever nothing, everything
Forever everything, nothing
Nothing forever, everything
Forever everything

Equal parts gorgeous and haunting, simple and thought provoking, its four and a half minutes capture everything Nothing Forever, Everything is.

But just because Noel’s clock runs quicker than ours, doesn’t mean his ideas are any less fleshed out. Rather, there’s a tightness, an intentional sparseness that can only come from hitting record and seeing what the tape captures. “I primarily record so I can hear this song the way I hear it in my head. And so it’s nice to have that, not a totally physical manifestation but at least an in this realm, in this world, manifestation of what you’re hearing.”

The tracks appear on the LP in the order recorded, with the original titles. But, the album’s flow was never far from Noel’s mind, making Nothing Forever, Everything feel more like a motif than separate songs. Adds Noel: “It wasn’t a fully conscious choice but it was just kind of felt like ‘okay this is the next song’ and I felt like it told the story.”

Every song is as exactly long as it should be, a passing thought that stays just long enough to sink in before passing onto the next. No repeating choruses, no big dramatic bridges, but rather a sonically adventurous canvas that Noel sketches his thoughts on as they occur.

It’s on you, the listener, to fill in the blanks and uncover the deeper meanings.

Noel’s writing process is as much about feeling as sounds. The emotion that seeps through the speakers is part of a process that usually starts in a whole other art form. “I like to watch a lot of different videos while I’m writing and trying to get inspiration and I think that those were maybe helping me too in terms of like, ‘okay, this song is this feeling,’” says Noel. “If I get a feeling from watching some kind of video and I want that feeling to be in a song, then I just have to check back and see like ‘okay is the feeling still permeating through the song or have I gone astray.’ It kind of acts as a compass or as a guide.”

“I’m somebody who’s often thinking about different things, so it’s nice to have places to come back to.”

The end result of all of this—writing to videos, writing as he records, and the speed at which it all flowed out—is a raw recording that bears Noel’s soul and worms its way into your heart.

His real wish for it though, is to offer you the same relief it gives him: “Hopefully they feel a bit more free from their thoughts. I just hope that people feel like they can empathize with some of the feelings going on and the things that are said. And if they’re having a hard time, expressing them or dealing with them in a certain way that maybe this will help them feel a bit lighter.”

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Nothing Forever, Everything - Cedric Noel

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