Siskiyou have always been a pretty quiet band. Their songs are delicate and gentle, often played at a volume best described as “hushed”. Whilst the band’s previous work was quiet primarily by choice, Nervous was written and recorded in such a way by necessity. After the release of 2011’s Keep Away The Dead, the band’s focal point Colin Huebert began to suffer from an inner ear condition that caused hyperacusis (essentially being unable to tolerate everyday noise levels, due to increased sensitivity to sound) and panic attacks. With no conventional cure forthcoming, Huebert began to practice meditation in an attempt to allay his symptoms.
The circumstances leading to Nervous being written were certainly extreme, but Huebert’s writing is as deft and skilful as always. Over the course of the album he captures the pent up, itching paranoia of his condition and juxtaposes it with calm more languid approach which presumably represents the influence of his meditation. Whether he’s examining the squealing sounds that seemed to trap him in his head or the tranquil states that liberated him, Nervous is an assured and very deliberate album that encapsulates Huebert’s struggle for control. Even the skronking sax solo that invades the hymnal grandiosity of opening track Deserter feels as if its wings are clipped before it gets out of hand.
It is Deserter that opens the album and provides something of a template for the entire experience of Nervous. It begins in a slightly threatening manner with a gothic tinged choir gives praise (to Satan by the sound of it), before a rolling Joy Divisionesque bassline takes over. The percussion, clanks and scratches uncomfortably giving a frantic edge to an otherwise laidback introduction. Eventually, things settle down, the choir deliver a heavenly refrain, and Huebert is back in the pocket, in control.
It’s the basslines that propel the majority of these songs, and gives them a sense of brooding menace and determination. The positively dreamlike haze of Violent Motion Pictures, a song swamped in whispered vocals and barely there guitars, would be almost too ephemeral were it not for the steadying, forceful bass of Paul Carruthers. Jesus In The 70s occupies a similar space, where dreams teeter on the tipping point of nightmares. For once though, the band allows itself to really let go and for an all too brief moment they explode in a cacophonous release. There’s a distinct dreamlike quality to many of the songs on Nervous, Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills (Give Peace a Chance) starts off like a lilting lullaby, with its genuinely beautiful guitar lick, but slowly a dark presence begins to make itself felt. It starts with Heubert’s vocals which begin to take on a desperate edge, and eventually he pulls the band with him into his personal hell.
Much of Nervous is a little heavy for what is, on the surface at least, a gentle, lilting folk inflected album. However, there are moments of utter joyfulness to be found. Imbecile Thoughts for example skips along with a quirky spring in its step, whilst Oval Window possesses a playful stomp and some beautiful backing vocal melodies that provide the counter to Heubert’s pained vocals that state “I’m in hell, maybe I’m just dreaming, sometimes it’s hard to tell” (adding more dream references to an album that already exists in an uncertain netherworld). The positivity wrapped up in the band’s music is infectious and endearing and reflects the triumph of the album. This is after all an album that was made by someone that could barely stand to hear music; its existence is testament to Heubert’s need to make music and his drive to do so.