Sunday, 1 March 2009

Time of the Assassins - Nickel Eye

Since the Strokes went on hiatus in 2006 Albert Hammond Jr has released two solo albums, Julian Casablancas has collaborated with Pharrell Williams and Santogold on a song for Converse (“My Drive Thru”) and Fab Moretti has worked on side project Little Joy (which sporadically featured Nick Valensi). Bassist Nikolai Fraiture follows a furrow well ploughed by his bandmates in releasing his d├ębut solo record, under the groan-inducing moniker Nickel Eye.

There are many noticeable things about the album, chief of which is the fact that Fraiture does not play bass. Instead he covers vocal and guitar duties, with British band South brought in as backing band to add flesh to the bones of his songs. There are also a raft of guest appearances, including Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Regina Spektor, but this does not detract from the overall ebb and flow of the album with each guest keen to sublimate themselves within their role and cede to Fraiture.

The tight, locked in groove and sinuous guitar line of “Intro” may support the notion of this being a low end heavy workout from a moonlighting bassist but the rest of the album is more pastoral. “You and Everyone Else” combines a strident Violent Femmes-esque guitar line with a winsome and breezy melody, while “Back From Exile” bears more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan's “Hurricane”. “Fountain Avenue” carries this idea of evocation even further, with Fraiture's vocals echoing the karaoke version of Shane MacGowan that Julian Casablancas delivered on “15 Minutes” from the Strokes' third album First Impressions of Earth. “Dying Star” increases the tempo and is the song that bears the closest resemblance to the Strokes, aided by Zinner's tremolo picking over the clangorous garage chords.

Sonically much of Time of the Assassins sounds like a raft of acoustic troubadours (Dylan, Cohen, Young, Kristofferson) filtered through 80s post-punk (REM, Mission of Burma, Meat Puppets, Violent Femmes, various elements of the 4AD and Sub Pop catalogue, The Pogues). In that we find comfort and nostalgia, playing on our sense of collective cultural memory. and a curious sense of languor and yearning urgency. This sense of inward reflection is resonated through songs such as “Providence, RI” and its myriad of lost highways, wilderness and waterways.

Yet this is what stops the album short of making it's own mark. In merely evoking recollections it adds nothing new to the already burgeoning genres and sub-genres from which it draws its influences.

Time of the Assassins is much like the old shoe box of poems and memories that apparently inspired Fraiture to write much of the material on here, with hidden surprises secreted amongst the things long since consigned to the vagaries of remembrance. The album is awash with a sense of nostalgia that is attractive, as Fraiture constructs a temporal and spatial dimension, pining for a lost country and time that can only be visited by memory. Fittingly for an album so obsessed with the past it closes with a version of Leonard Cohen's “Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye”. Homage is a precarious technique in music, occasionally covering a lack of originality, and this is the one area that Time of the Assassins fails on, but overall Fraiture has delivered an album rich in emotional honesty.

This article was originally produced for To read the music review of Time of the Assassins by Nickel Eye on the site please click on the article title.

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