Neive Strang – I Am the Ribbon

4 out of 5

Label: trace-untrace

Produced by: Tom Bell (recorded by)

I gotta tell ya – I miss the 90s. …The music. Maybe not as much a lot of the other stuff. And if we’re digging in, I’m sure that the amount of artists I listen to who had their major output during that era is equivalent to stuff during the 00s or the 10s, but there’s undeniably a “sound” – something that’s a cross between indie and grunge, and popped up on early Matador or Touch and Go releases – that tweaks that lil’ nostalgia nerve many of us have for (likely) whichever era our tastes came of age, and I’m ought to perk up and listen a little harden when tweaked in that fashion.

Neive Strang’s writing and singing style hit right in that 90s sweet spot, but the production quality and layering feel much more modern, giving the five tracks on I Am the Ribbon a nice mix of emotions that bring me back, but also keep me rooted to the now, appreciating Strang’s compositions via nostalgia buzz, while also reflecting on the skill of the songs’ craft and how the lyrics matter to modern-day me. Interestingly some of these components separately may not work for my tastes, with Neive’s husky register sometimes of a 4 Non Blondes’ style of bravado that can turn me away, but then they shift that right into my groove – more alternative, angsty sounding singing, like That Dog. at their snarkiest. Similarly, the clean strummed guitar has a singer-songwriter vibe that’s not exactly what I’m looking for… which then gets a modern post-rock bit of crunch, and then gets some good ol’ grunge smeared on top, this being the layering to which I referred. It’s a very arresting, dense sound, and, for my tastes, a great experience: I’m a little curious as a song starts, and then totally grabbed when it kicks into gear.

Strang’s lyrics tend to trawl through relationship contemplations, and so can be said to be somewhat one-note, but they do take a format I appreciate: poetic but grounded; imagery that’s relevant to Strang but open to our interpretation. Along these lines of repetition – and accounting for the slight knock in the rating – the five songs on this EP hit a nice mix of paces and tones, but it averages out to a relatively slow and steady build-and-release structure, which, by the fifth track, feels rather familiar. The performances are absolutely strong enough so that this isn’t a big problem, but perhaps on a full-length, it would become moreso.

Still, nostalgia tweaking aside, this is an incredibly solid and immersive set of performances.