REVIEW: A light at the end of the tunnel with Novo Amor

We listened to Novo Amor’s new album Cannot Be, Whatsoever and here’s what we love about it.

I like to think that Christmas came early this year with the release of Novo Amor’s incandescent new album. The image that it seems to conjure up in my mind reminds me of the feeling I get when I enter a dark yet seemingly iridescent cave where the stalactites above me just sparkle at me as I look up. A bit like what his music is doing to me.

If the album were a colour, I would describe it as the golden amber that shines from one of those old-fashioned oil lamps.

It was only a year ago when I first discovered the glow of Novo Amor (aka Ali Lacey’s) music. So moved was I by his music that I even purchased a ticket to his show in March (then July) at the Esplanade in Singapore, which unfortunately due to COVID-19, was unable to take place.

Pulled in by the ethereal colours of songs like ‘Birthplace’, ‘Anchor’, ‘Carry You’, ‘Sleepless’, ‘State Lines’, ‘Dancer’, ‘Silvery’, ‘From Gold’, among many others, I remember listening to his songs earlier this year and being warmed by the comfort and solace that they gave me, particularly amidst the fast-changing “landscape” of 2020.

His latest album ‘Cannot Be, Whatsoever’ has done the same, perhaps even more so.

Indeed, perhaps what I also love about this music artist is how his bio also reads like a beautiful story – speaking of moments and experiences in its aesthetic form, rather than just a series of dates and accomplishments.

Personally I love the idea of moments in life. It feels real. Personal. Special. Beautiful.

There is a prologue in his full artist bio that reads like a literary novel as he describes a pivotal moment in his life – at Woodgate, NY.

That summer in Woodgate, New York was years ago now, but for Lacey it remains a pivotal moment. Employed as a music teacher at a summer camp, he spent his days holding classes among the pews of an old chapel. “It was otherworldly,” he says, and the details are still keen in his mind:the bats that found their way into the chapel lanterns at night and in the daytime cast strange silhouettes against the walls; the scent of fresh pine; the unexpected greenness of that land. “It’s a serene place,” he adds.

A lot of things changed for Lacey that summer. He put away his interest in rock and heavy metal and film scores, and turned to what he describes now as “Music with more emotional depth than what I was listening to before.” He fell in love and suddenly found that “as predictable it sounds, songs began to mean a lot more to me, lyrically.” And he realised too that the relationship he began by the lake in Woodgate was in some ways as much about a place as it was about a person. “Going there, and then returning has played on my mind,” he says. “How that place changed me. It felt like a turning point in my life.

The bio then goes on to describe how Woodgate became a turning point in his life (thus resulting in a ‘Woodgate’ EP), while also mentioning how ‘From Gold’ (which was written as a favour for a friend’s feature film) would unlock something in him. Then, he met songwriter and producer Ed Tullett – where out of their friendship came the full-length album ‘Heiress’. Then the EP ‘Bathing Beach’ (a sister to ‘Woodgate’) was born, and then his solo album ‘Birthplace’ in 2018.

On 6 November 2020, a new album came to light – almost like on its own – a light out of this dark tunnel of 2020.

The pandemic afforded Lacey an opportunity to consider his songs from the perspective of his audience. 

He explains,

“It allowed me to appreciate why people need art and music at a fundamental level…as an escape, as something to hold onto and fall in love with. It can be a friend when they can’t go outside, creating a moment of calm or evoking nostalgia from their life before. The thought that you can create things out of thin air that affect people so deeply… sometimes it can really overwhelm.”

As he prepares to release ‘Cannot Be, Whatsoever’, Lacey contemplates a past soundtracked by songs of quiet hope and longing.

“I can still see Round Lake, Woodgate and my time in upstate New York when I picture ‘Birthplace’. The songs feel surrounded by evergreens, sheltered by this place I’ve romanticised,that doesn’t actually exist anymore. These new songs feel immediate and noisy in comparison. If‘ Birthplace’ is the countryside, then ‘Cannot Be, Whatsoever’ is the city.”

I take a closer look at the ten tracks on this new album and share on how it has moved me.

Opaline

‘Opaline’ pulls at another part of the coruscating beauty of Novo Amor’s songs. It is well… Opalescent. In terms of colours, you could lie in a field just putting this track on repeat – as it dresses your heart in its “sunshine”. It’s one of those songs that you could weep nonsensically about yet feel extremely happy about it. There’s a poignant magic to it which gives you a resigned moment of falling. Lyrically the song feels like a box of postcard memories; painful and happy ones that intertwine together until they just become one image. It’s a cluster of feelings that you want to let out – but you don’t. You feel it shine so bright and you just don’t know what to do with this opalescence… Being an ambivert (though mostly introvert), I reckon that I relate to this song, perhaps more than I should.

I Feel Better

If you don’t feel better after listening to this song, then you’re probably not getting it. If you don’t feel more after reading what Lacey has said about this song, then you’re quite cold. 

“The song, while still feeling like a bit of an outlier, actually came to represent so much of what this record is for me, this range of emotion and indecision, the building up and tearing down of ideas, this clash of happiness and sadness and affirmation from others. As the song sings – “just tell me that it’s alright and I’ll be fine”. While reminding me a little of Coldplay’s ‘piano feels’ at the start, sounding almost like the ‘Everglow’ of positivity, there are portions of the lyrics which get to me the most. In fact, I reckon that is the much needed song in the album with its delicate and lightly shimmering vocals as well as the great instrumental layers, particularly the riffs from the guitar – which also proves as sort of the pinnacle moment in the song. A bit like life itself. While at its core, the melody feels bright, the shadows of the poignant lyrics pull at the heartstrings, and all you want to do is hug the singer, and cry along with him. The juxtaposition is absolutely beautiful, and relatable as well. “I’ve said I’ll be alright for the last damn time”. Blimey – that line gets to me… Every single time.

Decimal

I listened to this song back in June when it was released. Roughly around three days before my birthday – and the end of the last year that I would be considered a “youth” (according to Contiki anyway). The end of that decimal part of my life, so to speak. At the time, when I first heard it, the beauty and “youthfulness” of it felt like a walk at the beach – feeling the sand and waves on your toes, and that freedom you get when you ride your bicycle and let your hands off the handlebars. Despite not being a “youth” anymore, I guess the dreamer in me really connected with the song. There’s a certain yearning, almost introspective wide-eyed wonder to this piece which I will always love. A romantic and a coming of age sort of vibe that is unapologetic and bold. “Got caught up in the skylight”. Yeah, that’s me all the time…

No Plans

Firstly wow! That guitar intro. For a moment I thought this was going to be a wild indie rock piece. Then you hear Lacey ethereal vocals come and you’re like “wow” again for the second time in a row. Then the percussion kicks in somewhere just after “My, My, Don’t go it alone”,  – and again – ‘WOW!”. You realised that it is going to be all indie rock after all! Lyrically the words hit you – because in essence, you connect with the “resignation” that encapsulates the piece. Also that somewhat feeling of “keeping up with the Joneses”. It is relatable. On the other hand, the ending of this masterpiece almost brings to mind the effects of “lockdown” and what it has done to all of us. The resigned feeling that we have of “the new normal”. There is just so much, texturally, that I love about this song. Percussion and guitar and all the textures in-between. I could never imagine head-banging to a Novo Amor song. But wow… This is probably my favourite song in the album. Gosh, listening to this and I suddenly miss going to all the live indie rock gigs so much. How apt indeed to accentuate all those “lockdown” and No Plans feelings. Why Ali…why…

Birdcage

This song sounds like a waltz – where two lovers are melding in its colours. There’s a certain familiarity to the piece too with its initial textures and silhouettes reminding me a little of Cigarettes After Sex’s ‘K.’ or ‘Cry’, and the feelings that inundate my soul when I listen to this song. There is also a certain regret to the colour of this piece which feels poignant as much as it feels brave. It’s almost as if you feel for the protagonist as you would know and realise what he’s going through. Perhaps we’re all in a ‘Birdcage’ at some point in our lives’. Especially now…

Keep Me

Gosh… the poignancy and pain in this song shines through. The burning embers that’s trying its best to hold on. Listening to this piece and I almost feel as if I am part of the flickering ember that is trying to hold on…before getting put out…eventually… It is a hopeful piece that shines through. Texturally, I am absolutely loving the strings in this piece.

Halloween

The fresh new sounds in this song are a breath of life, tinged with textures of nostalgia and where the instrumental layers and lyrical colours feel like a photo album you would flip through. Like ‘Decimal’, there were definitely feelings that inundated me when I first listened to this back in June – just three days before turning 35 and where I actually looked back on the past. Nostalgia. Memories. Moments. What were they? Do I have regrets? Plenty? What have I achieved? “More and more, I’ll catalogue my doubts. It’s the worst thing about me and it’s always around.” Gosh! Those words never felt so true. That moment that overwhelms you as you grow older and look back. It is a wonderful introspective piece and I love it a lot, as much as I wonder (and worry) about my life when I listen to it.

Statue of a Woman

Textures. Textures. Textures. And feelings. That is all I have to say of this piece. It is lyric-less, but the cloud atlas of it all is just stunning…

If We’re Being Honest

I love the ballad-like sunrise-glistening track of ‘If We’re Being Honest’ which pulls at the heartstrings like a handwritten note or box of postcards of a distant memory. There is also a certain regret and poignancy to this piece which feels stunningly heartbreaking. In fact, the music video of this piece accentuates this idea more – as you wonder if the love of her life (or loved ones)…is (are) still alive… The glow of humanity and hope in this is riveting.

Guest Book

An appropriate ending to the album after all those feelings we have felt. And of 2020. A jaunty piece that concludes an end – but yet a yearning of more – and of the future. Much like how some of us feel about life. “I wanted to bury the rest of my life, cause it’s probably wasted time.” I feel those lyrics so much. “I’ll breath. I’m bored of how, bored of now, but I’ll breathe. Be anywhere, I would be anywhere I could stay, be anywhere I would, be any place I could stay.” Gosh – how does he sound out my “nomad-like” feelings towards life so aptly. 😉

There is definitely an iridescent comfort that you will get from Novo Amor’s new album when you listen to it. Much like the warm feeling you get from a hug or the nuances of nostalgia and looking back (or looking forward).

Yes. ‘Cannot Be, Whatsoever’ is certainly the city… 

But it is also home…

Listen to his new album below and let us know what you think.

Cover photo: Daniel Alexander Harris

Embroidery: Aline Brant

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