REVIEW: Natureboy - Only No One

Laura Kerry

Natureboy’s albums have included a couple of long credit lists. The last one, The Sweep, released in 2013, contained notes for additional instruments, pedal steel, re-amping, final mixing, mastering, and, notably, three tracks with backing vocals by Sharon Van Etten. A project of Sara Kermanshahi—who shares with her guest singer a husky, lilting voice—the artist’s credits speak to the meticulousness with which she created and mixed its folk-pop sound. (Mostly acoustic) guitar-driven but with a smattering of other instruments and electronic touches, Natureboy earned a following for creating reflective and evocative music on her first two LPs.

Now, three years later, Kermanshahi’s credit lists have grown. On her third album, Only No One, Natureboy returns with three different drummers, a bigger production team, and a Rhodes synthesizer, among other additions. Though her unique voice and its beautiful folk cadences remain, it now dances among more layers of hazy and sparkling electronic voices, pairing the emotional force of her melodies’ deep slides and curves with languid, moody synth loops. Only No One lands in territory that is less Sharon Van Etten and more Mazzy Star.

Some of the album goes even beyond that, abandoning folk moors in favor of a more ambient and electronic sound. On “Nothing Matters,” a low electronic bass and shimmering synth pave the way for a slow drum machine and heavily processed voice in a song that leaves behind not only pop structure, but also the sure guidance of Kermanshahi’s clear singing. It's jarring, but not in a bad way.

Most of the nine songs don’t travel so far in the direction of abstract atmospherics, though. With a warm synth palette of humming organs, bright washes, and whirring keys, songs such as “Sunset,” “Swimmingly,” and “Idiot Vision” achieve the wistful glow of Beach House synth pop. Their lyrics are similarly dreamy, singing in playful enjambments that disguise the occasional over-reliance on rhyme, “Meet me outside / We’ll go down / To the merry-go-round” (“Sunset”), and, “What did you wake me for? / I was dreaming of nothing more / Than to be on the ocean floor” (“Swimmingly”).

Natureboy also masters a good deal of gentle yearning when the electronic haze clears. On one of the standouts on Only No One, “Idiot Vision,” Kermanshahi’s voice comes in alongside a simple repeating mallet line, eventually building slowly with doubled vocals at octaves, an escalation of bass, and muted drums that intensify into a folk-pop song with touches of both Beach House and Fleetwood Mac. All the while, the frontwoman’s voice leads the way with its uncommon ability to sound both sturdily earthy and haunting. With the clear moments like these—and the foggier ones, too— Kermanshahi’s beautiful singing and songwriting, along with the considered details that her collaborators add, make for a gorgeous third album.