Nascent's lessons on rhythm and sincerity

Posted 2023-09-16 #music

Alexander Panos' Nascent caught my attention earlier this month; it's one of the most unique, enrapturing listening experiences I've had in my life, and now I owe it to the world to pass it forward.

The sound design of Nascent speaks to the years of work behind the album. Organic & sung textures dance alongside artificial & impossible sounds. It's the kind of technical prowess that producers love to fawn over, but rest assured that if the story ended here, I wouldn't be writing about it. The album reaches soaring heights that could never be achieved with crisp sound design alone. The best way I can characterize this quality is the momentum, the perceived unison of weight & motion, that ebbs and flows over the course of the album. Tension builds & releases with such raw, emotional force that it feels simultaneously human and otherworldly. It's here that I hear the "becoming" of Nascent most clearly.

Notably, drums are almost completely absent throughout the record; "Cycles" and "catch it" offer brief synthetic facades of programmed drums, offering some much-needed solid ground at the edges of the album. Even in the total absence of a driving beat, "36523_red/blue" and "Dream Extinction" momentarily bring rhythm front-and-center with dramatic, pulsating textures that cut through the chaos. These moments of structure wouldn't carry nearly as much weight were it not for their sparseness. The vast majority of Nascent floats freely, suspended in harmonized clouds of voices. The balance is delicate, but expertly managed, never lingering on any one phrase or idea for too long. To my ears, this is the real technical achievement of the album: Panos manages to find the perfect pacing without any help from a grid. It's the same feeling as watching a pilot execute a perfect instrument landing in a thick layer of fog.

The first lyrics on the album took me by surprise for a coincidental & highly personal reason. See, over the last year, I've started practicing writing lyrics. When I start brainstorming, the first two words that come to mind tend to be "I want...". I promptly discard this phrase: it's too obvious, too literal to belong in a song. It's the burn card on top of a poorly-shuffled deck, and I can only surmise that my task as a songwriter is to learn how to shuffle properly.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the incomprehensible vocoded morphemes of reasonsnotto suddenly transform into a complete statement:

I want
more than a moment
I want a future

These lyrics break that unspoken rule of modern songwriting I've been trying to follow, the one that states there should be layers of indirection separating the artist's vision from their words. Here, Panos does so with a clear artistic motivation; the blunt honesty seems to absorb into the surrounding gibberish, imbuing the asemantic phrases with an unmistakable truth of their own. I'm reminded of BilliumMoto's "Set Me Free", with its pointedly mundane lyrics about schoolwork anxiety. It's the sincerity, the refusal to obfuscate your true artistic intentions, that makes these passages so memorable to me.

Panos has written openly about Nascent's production & meaning on the album's Bandcamp page, in personal uploads, and in interviews. The story of the album's production is relatable, and almost prescient to me: sometimes, perfectly reasonable life goals conflict with one another. Dealing with the ensuing internal struggle is a frustrating & often demoralizing process, heard most clearly on "Equinox". I suppose Panos' drive to create won the struggle in some sense (the album is done, after all), but he sounds optimistic in interviews that he found some resolution between that and the drive to improve his life. The final verse on "re:Turning" backs this story up, but with a gentle reminder that this isn't a happy ending - it's a new beginning.

fetterless, be multitude
settle this and start anew
'bloom where you were planted'
can't you understand it?

Nascent is, in a word, gorgeous. It invites exploration of new dimensions of contrast, stripping away seemingly-essential elements like a steady rhythm so that the raw character of the instruments & synths can shine brighter than ever. It tells a distinctly human story of inner turmoil jeapordizing the artist's relationship with the external world. It's given me a lot to think about, both as an artist and a person.

I'll be patiently awaiting whatever Panos decides to do next; in the meantime, I may as well keep on figuring out how to turn the right way.