It has generally been considered that traditional song-based guitar pop and futuristic inventive RnB are completely separate sounds not ideally suited to mixing with each other. However, over the past few years there has been a growing trend for UK groups to appropriate RnB production ethos and styles while aligning them to a traditional songwriting approach, infused with a very English kind of melancholy. It is a sound that can be heard in the work of The xx and Metronomy‘s The English Riveria and it is a sound that is most explicitly explored on the debut album from NZCA/LINES, aka Londoner Michael Lovett.
Lovett is a musician whose background is very much in breezy guitar rock and pop as bassist with Your Twenties. There is also another link to Metronomy in Lovett’s background as Your Twenties’ front man was Gabriel Stebbing, formerly the bassist in Metronomy. Despite playing in a rather straight-ahead guitar group Lovett’s true musical passion appears to have been RnB and the kind of otherworldly and incredibly inventive electronic sounds made by Timbaland in the ’90s for Aaliyah and Missy Elliot, amongst others. NZCA/LINES is his attempt to take that sound and offer his own twist to make a 21st century version of forward thinking pop music.
NZCA/LINES’ eponymous debut is an incredibly smooth and measured piece of electronic pop. The album is minimalism personified yet Lovett creates an impressive sound using just his analogue synth and little else. Opening track Compass Points immediately sets the tone for the album. Its glossily smooth but deeply rich electro pop sound, coupled with Lovett’s falsetto vocals, makes for an impressive outcome.
The album is flecked throughout with melodies that at first appear deceptively minimal and simple yet have a tendency to gradually bore their way directly into your brain. Okinawa Channels and Atoms And Axes both share a similar sound of skittering electronica but there is something deeply captivating about Lovett’s ability to take the most basic of electronic sounds and turn them into something inventive and emotionally affecting.
The twin instrumentals in the middle of the album are beautiful interludes. New Magnetic North sounds like early Human League with its spacey bleeps coupled with washes of sweeping synths, and AM Travel Approach’s soaring choral harmonies are particularly special.
Lovett considers the songwriting to be of equal importance to the sound, and every track on NZCA/LINES tells a story. The album frequently references sci-fi themes and futuristic imagery, and mythology is used throughout. This approach does, admittedly, lead to a few clunky lyrics such as on Nazca, an apparent love song to technology, which features the lyric “If you’re out tonight I’ll format you to my hard drive”. But more often than not, the imagery perfectly complements the songs. Moonlit Car Chase, a song about a death pact between a cryogenically frozen couple, is perhaps the best moment on the album; a glorious piece of symphonic progressive electro pop, there is something really tender about the way Lovett’s velvety smooth voice croons lines like: “I can only see your tail lights, flashing through the night.”
You do wonder how Lovett might develop his music if he adopted a broader sonic palette. But maybe that is still to come; for now his debut album is extremely coherent in sound and style and works very well as a result. There is something beautifully moving and enchanting about NZCA/LINES’ music, and his debut album is a wonderfully assured and measured collection of forward thinking electronic pop.