Nathan Parent: Inland Sea EP

Paul Whyte

The saying “patience is a virtue” seems to ring true with Nathan Parent’s new release titled “Inland Sea EP.” Parent is a singer-songwriter from the Ashland area and it’s been awhile since his debut release “Words Without Meaning,” which was released in 2010. Liner notes about how an album came to be are not uncommon, but Parent’s story behind the album is a little more at length than usual, which seems fitting because the process took longer than some of the albums I’ve had the chance to listen to. In summary, Parent wished to make a new album but was caught in a bit of a slump back in 2011. He began laying down demos with Washburn, WI engineer, Ryan Rusch, at his studio. After many hours demoing in the studio over a couple of years, Parent had narrowed down the material for this EP. One song, “Sorry Soul,” was officially recorded at Rusch’s studio, The Weight Room. The rest of the material was recorded with Dave Hill in Superior, WI at his Inland Sea Studio. With Hill and Rusch producing and engineering, Parent brought in guest musicians “adding only what was deemed essential to the mix.” It took around a year to record and mix the EP and about another year before the mastering was completed. Overall, it took four years from concept to completion on this album that could be considered the “Inland Sea Sessions.”
It doesn’t really matter much to me how long an album takes to make, although in this case I’d say this album took quite awhile to create and apparently his debut album took about as long. I’m guessing the commute from Ashland to Superior and getting everyone’s schedule aligned probably played a part in why it would take so long to record a five track EP. There really isn’t a hurry to putting out an album just as long as it’s well thought out and achieves a certain experience for the listener.
When getting into this music, I’ll say this material is largely lyrically driven indie-rock with some contemporary jazz undertones. Obviously “indie-rock” is a pretty far reaching term. Parent is a singer-songwriter first and the musicianship and other details fall into place around the core of his song writing. The subject matter of the songs deals with the positive and negative impacts of love, political awareness, and some personal reflections on life.
The album opens up with the track “Love Will Be Your Command.” It’s an upbeat number about getting back on the horse as far as living and finding love. “I pulled back, but no one noticed/practiced today on how to find the way back to find the center of it all,” the lyrics open. One of the driving factors of the vocal melodies is the addition of Danielle Diamond as the backing vocalist for a number of the songs. Her vocals add a professional sounding punch to Parent’s softer and more reserved vocals. He certainly can sing and hits his notes, but he’s not exactly a vocal powerhouse. “Breaking down is a way to realize your fate, someone’s holding your hand, love will be your command/Open up your heart then it’s easy to start the healing now, love will be your command,” ends the song.
There are two rather political songs titled “Protest Age” and “Energy Bullet” stuck in together on the album. I can say in this respect there isn’t an overall theme or message to the album although these two songs flow seamlessly into each other. The songs would probably be folk songs if it weren’t for the instrument arrangements which certainly add some fullness. The transition between the songs is more or less a break down in the middle of the same song. Essentially the songs are a statement of political awareness and how the world faces some trying and dark times. The cello laid down by Ed Willett on the songs adds a very nice touch and the vocal dynamics between Parent and Diamond almost hides the intended message. I mean that as a good thing, but it is easy to just to listen to how the songs are delivered over what is actually being said. It should be noted that Eric Doane plays drums, Bill Knoblauch is on bass, and Nate Bean covers electric guitar on first four of the five songs on the album.
The track “When Love is Broken” is appropriately named. The song is about a dysfunctional relationship between a broken and substance abusing man and a woman who is dealing with being with him. The song is profound, but the something about the melody doesn’t sit with me. It’s well written but the weight of words don’t match the delivery. It’s a little too soft spoken, sing-songy, and catchy for the rawness of what is going on with the lyrics. Of course that’s Parent’s vocal style, but after several listens, the overall statement made more and more of an impression, while it seemed to not hit hard enough in the aspect of, “how does the song feel?” Every once and awhile I think about a song as if it were in a different language, would its mood match the lyrics if I couldn’t understand the lyrics?
The album ends with the introspective track “Sorry Soul.” Parent covers all of the instruments on this track and it makes me wonder what songs ended up being cut from the album. I almost forgot that he has been a percussionist/drummer for Molly and the Danger Band (formerly the Haymakers), a fairly well know local act from the area that has been around for a couple of decades. He can certainly hold his own on drums. The recording, musicianship, vocals and lyrics for the most part all come together well on this album, as they should. Solo singer-songwriter material is perhaps one of the toughest to pull off well, and Parent did succeed at making a solid album. If there were to be one thing I think Parent is capable of is to delve further into creating the mood of a song and branching off more drastically with his music. The lyrics are deep and meaningful, he has plenty of talent, and can readily find people to fill in in the studio and probably live if he needs it. All of the songs play around with structure a little and that’s nice, but it took a few listens to fully get the grasp of what he was trying to convey in this material.
Nathan Parent’s album’s can be found on his Bandcamp site at www.nathanparent.bandcamp.com. He made a music video for “Sorry Soul” with Washburn videographer, Kjell Kvanbeck, can be found on Vimeo by Googling “Nathan Parent.”