For the past few weeks, Nick Mulvey has been releasing a steady stream of singles to brighten Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist. He released Unconditional, Myela, Mountain to Move and We are Never Apart before finally releasing the full eleven-track album Wake Up Now. This is the first release we’ve had from Mulvey in four years, and it did not disappoint.
In a recent interview with Spotify, Mulvey talks about his previous music centring around personal experiences and feelings. In Wake Up Now, however, his focus switches as his lyrics engage with the world around him, particularly political and societal issues. Mulvey explores the idea of apathy towards current global problems, and the necessity to care about each other. He cleverly avoids sounding preachy or judgmental- rather he encourages engagement with the issues he references, such as the refugee crisis. While the title Wake Up Now could seem like an strict order to leave our sleepy apathy Mulvey asserts “for some people Wake Up Now is politically charged, for others it might just be about breakfast – it’s up to you.”
The new album sees not only a topical change, but a much more experimental sound. The record features stronger synth and drum influences compared to his previous, more guitar-led work. He and producer Dan Carey discussed how they wanted to find a “balance between the organic and the synthesised”. The jazzy defiance of Transform Your Game for example, presents interesting interruptions of synthetic sounds. At points this pushes the limit of the balance Mulvey strove for, but the sound still manages to maintain equilibrium between the instruments and the mechanised. Equally, When the Body is Gone provides a similar mix of electronic and instrumental layers which seem at points to be at odds with each other. However, every time Mulvey reconciles the two to create an intriguing listening experience.
It is not only Carey who became vital to the album process. For Mulvey, there was a strong emphasis on collaboration with his friends while making the album. In the music video for Mountain to Move, Mulvey uses contemporary dancers to give an interpretation of the song. Later in the video, the dancers and the band are shown dancing together and having fun, seemingly a depiction of the community Mulvey had surrounding him whilst making the album. The strong drum beat and ukulele which carry the song give the track a sense of joy and celebration. The track Remembering shares the same liveliness and optimism. The lyrics talk of family and childhood-perhaps inspired by Mulvey recently becoming a father.
In the run up to the album release, Mulvey has used his Facebook page to discuss the topics he has chosen for his songs. He explained how We Are Never Apart is about the desecration of sacred land at Standing Rock and fracking in the UK. The lyrics encourage a connection to these topics, perhaps suggesting Mulvey feels like onlookers have easily distanced themselves from ‘other people’s’ problems. In response the lyrics insist “And now we are never really apart from the whole of it all”. An even stronger response against apathy and detachment comes from the track Myela. For me, this is the gem of the album. The song and accompanying music video give voice to refugees who have escaped their countries to seek safety. Mulvey wrote the song with friend Frederico Bruno after they visited Calais to hear some first-hand accounts from refugees. The first line of the song “It’s in my mind again, troubled by the images I’ve seen” resonates with anyone who has seen the haunting photos of refugee camps and the life-threatening sea crossings taken by refugees in recent news. It is the music video, however, that is an absolute work of art when combined with the song. The video is directed by Majid Adin, an Iranian refugee who draws on his own experiences as a refugee in the images he uses. The video depicts a child being torn apart from their mother and a perilous journey across the sea in a tiny raft.
Throughout the video Adin uses repeated motifs of butterflies and barbed wire. Initially the wire surrounds the butterfly and crops up continually as a sing of entrapment and danger. However, as the song ends the butterfly is released into a colourful background, which features the same design as the album cover art. Mulvey and Adin tell stories of pain and sadness but the song leaves it’s listener with a sense of hope. The bridge lyrics “I am your neighbour, you are my neighbour” sung by a unison of voices produces a sense of solidarity and optimism.
Mulvey’s new album absolutely may not be for everyone. The blending of the synthetic and the natural might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Even for me, some songs don’t hit as hard as others - Imogen and Lullaby don’t provide the same impact as Mountain to Move, for example. However, I still think the album as a whole is a masterful display of experimentation and imagination. Mulvey’s message about apathy and needing to connect with the world around us is a really powerful one, and is becoming increasingly poignant every day.