Michael Nace – The Voyage Out

Michael Nace
The Voyage Out

Michael Nace, does the name sound familiar? The answer most people would give you is not in the least bit. This is quite unfortunate, and hopefully this review will shine more of the spotlight on this talented singer/songwriter and draw others to discover his craft. Michel Nace originally started playing music in 1995 in his first project, a highly underrated math-rock band called Drill for Absentee from the Philadelphia area. The band put out a limited amount of material, including the impressive Circle Music album. They had quite a bit of potential but never really achieved widespread recognition among similar bands in the genre like Rumah Sakit, June of ’44, Drive Like Jehu, and Shellac.
After the demise of DFA, Michael ventured on to exploring new forms of music incorporating and infusing techniques from his past math-rock days with a new-found maturity for songwriting. His solo project draws substantial amounts of influence from singer songwriters like Nick Drake and Jim Croce as well as occasionally incorporating jazzier elements that sound reminiscent of bands like The Sea and Cake. Adding to Michael’s guitarwork on The Voyage Out are veteran musicians who assist him by accompaniment and production work. Geoff Turner who is currently in New Wet Kojak recorded and produced the album. Kevin Kelly who was also a member of Drill for Absentee lends a hand as the string arranger and also plays bass for several songs. Adam Wade who plays drums for the off-kilter DC band Shudder to Think also provides assistance by playing drums on a few tracks.
The first track on the album, “All of Them,” is a beautifully constructed melodic masterpiece, featuring fingerpicked guitar, synthesizers, light piano, and soothing vocals. “Perfect Pace” is the second track on the CD and features a Nick Drake-type of acoustic guitar motif. Michael makes perfect use of repetition, adding to the somewhat mathy feel to the song. He begins singing with catchy, very breathy vocals, lulling the listener to a far away place. Adding to the dramatic intensity of the song is the string section that adds a substantial amount forcible beauty. “Time Passes” is a laid-back number that incorporates jazz drumming, soft guitar, jazz piano and a Sea and Cakesque vocal melody. Intricacies such as vibraphones and light fingerpicking make the song flow and add to the fullness.
My favorite track on the album is a number called “Always.” Softly sung vocals and a gorgeous fingerpicked guitar part develop into a beautiful melody. Guitar techniques such as hammer-on’s and pull off’s in combination with an ethereal string section give the song an addicting hook that plays in your mind for weeks. The production work is phenomenal. “Luck, Solitary Life” is comprised of soft fingerpicking and demonstrates Michael’s versatile falsetto vocal abilities. “What You Got” is a somber introspective number with a soft fingerpicked guitar part that features a darker melody. The string section adds a substantial amount to the song, taking the listener to another place and time. “Schuykill River” has very detailed repetitive guitar work and reminds the listener of what Nick Drake might have sounded like if he was still alive and incorporated a mathier element to his music.
“Beautiful Lad” is a melodic number that features soft guitar work that meanders back and forth. The addition of second guitar part makes the song even more rich adding to the mood. A mandolin makes an appearance about half way into the song, which adds a new dimension to the song and takes it another direction. Out of the final four tracks on the record, “How Do You Ask the Night?”, “I Will Go For the Millionth Time,” “Overture,” and “Timestorm Was the Signal,” the last one makes the largest impression on the listener. It is an unbelievably catchy number with a hookish effect-laden guitar part accompanied by lightly strummed acoustic guitar and super catchy vocal melody. It is definitely one of the best tracks on the record.
Overall, The Voyage Out is an impressive experimental masterpiece that combines many different styles into a highly emotional and cohesive debut. Michael shows he is more than capable of coming up with extremely catchy and meaningful songs while at the same time finding a new sound and direction. While many may have never given DFA the attention it deserved, Michael’s Nace’s solo debut of blended classical, jazz, and rock should not be overlooked.