For all the growth in Nightstand, Abbott’s still at her best when she keeps things simple.
Brevity was the strength behind Tancred’s Out of the Garden, the 2016 album from Jess Abbott’s power-pop project that hit honest and raw like pages out of a teen diary. She jotted down complicated feelings into straightforward phrases over urgent pop melodies, guitar riffs as frenzied as her scrawled words. But while that record succeeded by committing to a single mode of operation, Abbott now attempts to broaden Tancred’s horizons in the follow-up, Nightstand.
If Out of the Garden found Abbott driven by the heat of the moment, she takes some time in Nightstand to cool off and reflect upon her self-made mess. She knocks out yet another infectious hook in “Queen of New York” with guitar still too hot to touch. Yet a slight detachment in her voice makes her confessions more resigned than starry-eyed by the thought of her current love interest, like she’s partly unsure if she’s a competent partner in crime. The melancholy “Clipping” indulges more deeply into her bummed-out impulses, especially Abbot’s central refrain written for her anthem dedicated to the losers.
Abbott also expands her range through more evocative imagery while writing about her world. She still uses a simple vocabulary, a decision that’s more of a stylistic choice than a limitation at this point. The rhyme schemes, too, follow a rather standard formula that prioritizes her sense of melody. But the songs are deceiving in their sweetness. As she sings, “With a smile you say the world is doomed,” in “Apple Tree Girl,” she hints at the bleakness hidden underneath the sugar-coated surface. She indulges in grimmer imagery in “Hot Star,” comparing her obsessive love to an addiction worth dying for.
Through a mix of dark imagery and restraint in the music, Abbot starts to move away from depending on a song’s velocity to convey emotional intensity in Nightstand. Forlorn strings and a soul-crushed riff immediately weighs down “Underwear” with melodrama, and it gets increasingly harder to breathe as she sings about a scene from her past through a wickedly personal perspective. Atmosphere also plays crucially as she invites us closer to her gloomy headspace in “Strawberry Selfish.”
What cuts through the sharpest in the album are still the hooks and raw lyrics. Abbot reaches for more flowery figures of speech, though a Romeo and Juliet metaphor feels heavy-handed when her feelings are better expressed through much more conversational means. A plain turn of phrase like “I’m done for” in “Queen of New York” may not read so impressive on paper, but the casual aside makes a sweet conclusion to her chorus with the singer so head over heels.
Abbott returns to her old ways in “Something Else,” the best song on the album. The live-wire rock sound echoes the previous album, and the titular no-frills hook drops huge, unfiltered feelings. When she tries to write about a more serious love, her mention of the fall of her kingdom provide more decoration than gravity. It’s yet another example where florid language only complicates matters as Abbott struggles to properly describe an already-inexplicable feeling. For all the growth in Nightstand, Abbott’s still at her best when she keeps things simple.