Dave Hartley’s second album under the Nightlands moniker opens with a reverb-drenched invitation for the listener to join him in “a place I used to go when I was only 17.” Like a Where the Wild Things Are-styled manifest destiny, the thesis weaves itself through Oak Island‘s 10 tracks. Hartley, also of Philadelphia’s War On Drugs, constructs his escapist fantasy out of multi-layered vocals, Afro-rhythm beats, analog synths and a ghostly brass section.
As with fellow sound-quilt constructionists Here We Go Magic and Grizzly Bear circa Yellow House, Hartley’s pop-leaning inclinations are often shrouded in bedroom recording softness. Songs never linger on a single musical touchpoint: On the Beach Boys-through-the-looking-glass number “So Far So Long,” stacked vocal harmonies are paired with heavy guitar drones and sparse, thumping bass lines. More straightforward is single “I Fell in Love With a Feeling,” but even its yacht-rock choruses don’t escape Hartley’s history-revising vocoders. The cultural abstraction is pushed to the most extreme in “Rolling Down the Hill,” a miasmic cloud of Gregorian chants-run-amok interwoven with frenetic tribal percussion. Still, even when pursuing his most feral tendencies, Hartley refuses to clutter his compositions, maintaining their dream-like sparseness. As a result, Oak Island is both an untamed beast and an inviting fantasy world worth inhabiting.