Published May 30, 2018As Tancred, Maine-based singer-songwriter Jess Abbott has developed a keen ear for major-key, frayed-at-the-edges guitar pop over her last few albums. For the most part, her latest offering Nightstand doesn't mess with the blueprint. Both the album's title and downcast cover are largely misnomers; much of Nightstand consists of the same fizzy, sun-kissed sound we've come to expect from Tancred.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Abbott's expertise in '90s-indebted indie rock is well-earned and cuts like "Queen of New York" and "Hot Star" demonstrate the benefits of this continuity of approach. Without trying to do too much, both tracks strike a winning balance between low-fi mugginess and pop sheen.
"Queen of New York" especially demonstrates the considerable progress Abbott has made as a singer, especially when she reaches toward the top of her range towards the end of the song. Many of Abbott's contemporaries often get a bad rap for blasé vocal performances, so it's good to see her singing confidently here.
Unfortunately, elsewhere the album is disappointingly conservative, providing proof that that kind of professionalism and chops that Abbott has in spades can only carry her so far. "Something Else" is particularly lethargic, approaching indie-rock-by-numbers. The song oscillates between fuzzed-out revelling and introspection, but it's hard to wring any drama out of a formula that has been followed so many times. "I tried feeling nothing," Abbott sings, sounding bored. "And it just felt like nothing."
With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Nightstand's best moment comes when Abbott belies expectations, however briefly. On the album's opener, "Song One," Abbott pairs her cascading guitar with chirping synths to create an intricate, beguiling piece of dream pop. It's the album's crowning achievement and yet, at under two minutes, it's gone all too soon, a bittersweet reminder of the album that Nightstand could have been had Abbott built on this blueprint instead of sticking with a well-worn sound. (Polyvinyl)