Secret Meeting score: 84
by Phil Scarisbrick
Canadian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Nicholas Krgovich, has spent the last sixteen years exploring the very boundaries of what pop can be across various musical projects. Collaborating with the likes of Mount Eerie, Nite Jewel and Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors along the way, he has quietly amassed a back catalogue of music that is unmistakeable. He has now returned with a new collection that explores one of the fundamental subjects often covered in the finest pop music: heartbreak. That record is called Ouch.
The traditional heartbreak album is usually the result of a key breakdown in the artist’s life – be it Joni Mitchell’s despairing paean to her relationship with James Taylor on Blue, or Justin Vernon’s anguish at the loss of his band and girlfriend that resulted in For Emma, Forever Ago – the genesis of these records can usually be traced to source. Ouch is no different, as it was written and recorded within a month of Krgovich having his heart broken for the first time in the summer of 2017. The resulting album is a vibrant collection of eclectic pop that lingers on the heavy stuff, but never feels like it does for too long.
Rosemary‘s dreamy melodies are a thin veil over the despair Krgovich sings about. Yet more traditional pop hallmarks arrive in the form of hand claps and a falsetto hook, but none of it can distract you from the melancholy in his words. Time follows in a similar vein as he documents “crying every day“, before giving way to an exquisite sax solo that adds real pathos.
Spa‘s Gruff Rhys-evoking falsetto dices with yet more saxophone to deliver a spacious, wavy moment where Krgovich tries to deal with the reasons he and his ex-boyfriend broke up. Belief sees a female voice echo Krgovich’s lead before he takes the song on alone. The piano and acoustic track builds beautifully as our narrator asks, “Now how did I become an open-hearted wound?” as well as moments of clarity such as “You were happy to try your hand at anything/Which is just what you did when it came to me/You saw what there was to see/And decided you only want a part of it/The part that’s easy“. This track is a wonderfully crafted and moving song that somehow feels like it disappears before it even begins.
Most recent single – Lido, really captures the thread of the album as it paints a melodic picture of a crumbling relationship, and the consequences of the aftermath. Sparse verses – including the wonderfully visceral lyric “I want someone to know me/ I want that fart in the night/ To be surrounded by love/ Safe and at home” – give way to a much more urgent bridge as Krgovich sings “If it isn’t dying/If it isn’t alright“. Much of the singing on this record reminds me of Damon Albarn’s sublime delivery on the Blur song, Out of Time. That comparison is never more prevalent than on this track.
This album may be a document of one of the darkest times of Krgovich’s life, but that acute pain has given life to such a wonderful selection of songs. The candid way in which he unveils his feelings, warts and all, is not dissimilar to the recent work of former collaborator, Phil Elverum, only regurgitated in a totally different form. The music is never any more embellished than it needs to be, but odd flourishes of melody land a sucker punch before disappearing forever. Though the record may stand alone thematically within his canon, and its dark subject matter being so overt, you can’t help but love it.