Best known as the bass player from Brooklyn experimental art-popsters Dirty Projectors, Nat Baldwin also has a pretty busy list of side-projects on the go. As well as working with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear and Department Of Eagles, he’s also recorded a number of solo albums, with this latest offering being his fourth.
A glimpse at the tracklisting may suggest that In The Hollows is quite a grim listen: songs like A Good Day To Die, Bored To Death and Wasted certainly don’t suggest that Nat Baldwin is in the LMAFO tribute act business. Yet while In The Hollows is a deep, serious listen, it’s never bleak – rather, this is beautiful and fragile music.
Most of the songs on In The Hollows are sparsely arranged – simply Baldwin’s voice backed by his upright bass and a string section. It’s avant-garde but still utterly accessible: indeed, fans of Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor‘s more dramatic moments will find much to fall in love with. Baldwin’s voice is the main attraction: high and tremulous, he swoops and soars along with his instrumentation in a way that can prove quite compelling. Certainly, the ebb and flow of the title track can easily produce goosebumps, while Baldwin’s vocals almost crack with emotion on the opening Wasted.
There are vocal similarities to both Antony Hegarty and Jeff Buckley, and Baldwin’s falsetto can often provide a jolt when delivering dark lyrics like “do what you do best – kill yourself with hoses” on the dramatic Cosmos Pose. The effect can be both beautiful and unsettling, especially on the standout Half My Life where, like most of the songs, Baldwin’s lyrics sound both poetic and abstract with some unspecified form of dread always lurking (“half of my life ago, you came to me in my sleep, now you stay a dream, dead to me”).
Sometimes, the album’s minimalism is simultaneously its strongest draw and strongest flaw. At times, the sound of Baldwin’s mournful vocals placed against bass and strings is spine-tingling, as on the gorgeous Knockout. At others, it’s almost too fragile, and you’re longing for a bit of steel to beef the track up, such as The End Of The Night. It’s why the aforementioned Half My Life works so well, with drums adding a touch of backbone to the track and making it sound all the more stirring.
Some may complain that there’s a degree of homogeneity across the record, and it’s true to say that the stark arrangements can make each track sound rather similar. However, the album’s relative brevity at just nine tracks means that it never overstays its welcome. Baldwin is probably destined to remain a cult concern, but this is beautifully crafted chamber pop that deserves to find a wider audience.