REVIEW: Nearly Oratorio - Tin

Kelly Kirwan

Simon Lam has struck out on his own once again. We’ve seen him with the likes of I’lls (who have sadly announced an indefinite hiatus) and Kllo (a cousin collaboration that proves lyrics and melodies may just be written in one’s DNA) while also forging a steady but understated flirtation with his solo alter-ego, Nearly Oratorio, since 2011. His last EP, Showers, caught our attention and then kept us on the hook as Lam played coy, carrying out various other projects as Nearly Oratorio idled in the background. And we stayed patient, waiting for the payoff. Well, it’s finally here.

Released on Solitaire Records, Lam’s new EP, Tin, is an intricate weaving of synths, acoustics, and the occasional piano cameo. His voice is an intimate whisper across its five tracks, laying his emotions bare on the table for us to sift through, as if we were turning the pages of his diary. In fact, this was the exact theme he was vying for, admitting in an interview with Vice’s THUMP, “…it feels like I’m sixteen again. I really miss those first moments where you write music when you’re really naive…” Tin is an interplay of the innocence and angst which so strongly colors our teenage years—growing pains, first heartbreak, and periodic musings.

The appeal of Tin, though, is that it’s pensive without trying too hard to be profound. Lam isn’t out to preach or show-off (and with raw talent like his, he doesn’t need to flex too hard to be noticed). It really does feel as though he's simply taking a breath, enjoying the chance to have an open-ended monologue instead of a conversation between bandmates. Art for catharsis, art for art’s sake… whatever the case, this shit is good.

Take "Occlude," a track that plays like a spell of being lost in thought. It’s slyly busy, sonically, with a steady percussion and slow piano melody that adds to its cloudy-skies vibe. It feels serious and still lightweight—the sort of song that sends you into a far-off stare, thinking of things that were or could have been. Lam’s use of hand drums emphasizes the intimacy he seems to be after—Tin is his low-key passion project, a heart-on-his-sleeve sort of expression that’s both raw and magnetically lulling.

Then there’s "Veracity," a track marked by quirky guitar plucking (or sliding?), finger-snapping (or its instrumental recreation), and a background chorus that relies on pitch more than words. It’s a unique pairing of melody that still doesn’t overwhelm (perhaps because Lam’s high-note vocals act as our guide), soothing and sweetly mellow. Tin is an EP that instills a sense of calm and evokes a perked ear, for Lam’s off-the-beaten-path melodies. It proves he's an artist that’s after his own sound, trends be damned.

Nearly Oratorio, like the name suggests, is ambitious without taking itself too seriously. This is a beautifully crafted and emotionally honest EP that isn’t searching for any sort of validation. Lam is out to create, for creation’s sake, and luckily, we get to listen.