An otherworldly folk song about the injustices that hold humanity down on planet Earth, the Montreal singer-songwriter channels Thom Yorke-esque vocals via glistening Mazzy Star-like arrangements to begin a quietly powerful campaign for change.

At its heart, “Eye For An Eye” is a protest song that questions the merits of playing one’s part in society when a society is built on structural inequalities, false narratives, and false promises for changes that never come. Beginning with a series of unassuming, open-ended questions, Nicol’s latest single slowly constructs an understated critique of systemic oppression. As Nicol explains:

“In “Eye For An Eye”, I question the point of playing one’s part in a society that is built on systemic oppression and false narratives. I also try to articulate a feeling of exhaustion and frustration I feel at playing along for so long, while major social issues go unaccounted for by those in power. Ultimately, the song emerged out of an undulating subterranean impulse I’ve had for a long time, which can best be described in a question: if a social system is designed to keep people disenfranchised and distracted while those in power benefit, how long before citizens of that society get so fed up they revolt? “

Suffused with Orwellian imagery and told with the world-wearied observations of someone who has seen and lived it all, evocative couplets like “What’s this bitter taste / Chewing stones with broken teeth / We want the truth / They feed us hard deceit” ripple with disquiet and will leave a lasting tang. 

Sowing socialist ideologies through a soundscape of spatial acoustic arrangements streaked with interstellar guitar breaks and arching pedal steels, “Eye For An Eye” dismantles the dishonesty of corrupt systems and society at large with a lightness of touch that will endure repeated plays. 

“Eye For An Eye” swiftly follows the release of “Been A Long Year”, which received support from tastemaker titles like FLOOD Magazine, Brooklyn Vegan, and Exclaim, plus UK radio support from Radio X’s John Kennedy. The previous single also lends its title to an upcoming five-song EP release from Alex Nicol, ‘Been A Long Year Vol.1’, due on 30 June.

To the casual observer, the atmospheric sounds that cascade through Nicol’s upcoming EP may not immediately communicate a sense of hardship, but scratch the surface and you will hear a body of work that is the direct byproduct of a journey through personal tragedy to self-acceptance. The years surrounding ‘Been A Long Year Vol.1’’s creation weren’t particularly kind to anyone, but shortly after completing his 2020 debut long-player ‘All For Nada’, Nicol entered a phase of staggering loss and mourning. Friends died. Family members died. He lost his job. As each new crushing sadness hit, Nicol began realising he’d spent his adult life avoiding difficult emotions like the ones he was being overpowered by. It slowly became clearer that his upbringing had conditioned him to maintain a false but constant state of hyper-stability. A small lifetime’s worth of unacknowledged feelings began coming to the surface and everything in Nicol’s world began to change. 

While beautiful and well-thought, Nicol’s music before this often hid behind over-intellectualisation. Devotions were specific and his poetic turns were sincere, but emotional wavelengths were tightly controlled. For the songs that poured out for ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’, Nicol let the raw feelings flow. Instead of fine-tuning lyrics or meticulously dissecting every possible way a song could be interpreted, it was more important to set free what was trying to get out. He was uncovering a newfound vulnerability within himself, and this carried over into the music as well. Lyrics about how much hurt he’d been holding onto, how scary the world could be or how overwhelming his recent experiences had been were transmitted without fear or qualification. Nicol relinquished control and simply tried to be honest with himself.

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Even though it bloomed out of heavy times, the resultant EP is by no means a gloomy listen. The songs move with warmth and curiosity, Nicol’s haunting voice gliding over understated chamber pop flourishes, elastic bass grooves, and expansive production that spills out like the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds. The EP pulses with a gentle melancholy that recalls the fragile sweetness of Nick Drake or Sea Change-era Beck, and it explores the same arid atmospheres as contemporaries like Andy Shauf or Wand vocalist Cory Hanson’s country-tinged solo albums. More than anything, ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’ feels like a protracted sigh of relief. It’s a document of a calloused spirit finally letting go, and the weightlessness Nicol achieves outshines all of the struggles that brought him to this point.

With all songs written and performed by Alex Nicol (vocals, acoustic guitar, mellotron, farfisa), guest musicianship across its five songs was contributed from Simon Trottier (electric guitar, lap steel), Maxime Castellon (bass), and Guillaume Ethier (drums), with a guest vocal on its title-track from Angel Deradoorian (Dirty Projectors / Decisive Pink).

Produced and mixed by Emmanuel Ethier (who also contributed strings and keys) with additional mixing by Mark Lawson, Alex Nicol’s ‘Been A Long Year Vol. 1’ EP will be released on 30th June 2023.

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