There’s something inherently a little sad about solo projects. They are, by definition, the manifestation of the search for something more—something outside of, or perhaps simply more appropriate than, our regular avenues. Even when these ventures come out triumphant, they still often betray a sense of yearning, dissatisfaction, or restlessness. In Nate Brenner’s latest solo release under the Naytronix moniker, these sentiments are not just intimated; they are broadcast incessantly.
Mister Divine is the sophomore full-length for Naytronix, described as the result of a long, exhausting, and surreal tour alongside Merrill Garbus for tUnE-yArDs. Brenner, who joined the yArDs in 2009 and has since co-written much of the project’s material, originally touted Naytronix as his “dream funk outfit,” but the nine tracks on Divine see the bass player expanding to a more ambient, electronically-inclined sound. The opening title track, from its very first moments, establishes a pensive and very measured mood, as far removed from funk as one could imagine. Instead, the song comes off as chillwave with a soft spot for jazz—it’s down-tempo but melodic, electronic but speckled with smooth saxophone, flute, and guitar. Brenner’s auto-tuned vocals even bring Ernest Greene to mind.
Other tracks, namely “Starting Over” and “Shadow,” are infused with more of a stomping groove and Latin-leaning percussion, which might not feel too out of place on a tUnE-yArDs record. But even these more danceable numbers carry the unrelenting feeling of discontent and self-doubt—the beats are anxious, almost paranoid in some cases, and many of the songs feature some experimentation in the form of abrupt breaks and changes in the rhythms and textures.
Brenner’s lyrics and tone, all the while, are overtly, unequivocally despondent. There’s a stream-of-consciousness element to his soft speak-sing which gives the impression that he’s mostly talking to himself when he confides thoughts like “Stepped out on my own / But I never had the courage to fall” (“Mister Divine”), or “Things you think would last forever / Then you wake up and they’re gone” (“The Wall”). “Dream” is potentially his most melancholy track, in which he says, “Tell my mother I miss home,” “Dreams will turn to nightmares,” and then closes the song with a withdrawn repetition of the words “What do I do?” The album is absolutely steeped in disappointment, self-deprecation, and uneasiness.
But these feelings are offset (to some extent, at least) by the confidence that shines through in the construction of the songs themselves. The instrumentation is layered with an ear for nuance and precision, achieving a warm and full sound at every turn. Amid his personal grapples and doubts, Mister Divine also puts Nate Brenner’s talent on full display, and thus ends up feeling accomplished. It seems to gently remind us that at the end of every existential crisis is, thankfully, a glimmer of hope.