Compact yet expansive and dealing in oxymorons, the debut EP from Nottingham alt-folk mogul, Night Bus Revival, is a delicately balanced triumph. At the crossroads between isolation and domesticity, Tragic Magic weaves its guitar and deep humming strings into tales of contemporary struggle, and its enigmatic creator revealed all in a chat with Matt Andrews.
Nils Dylan, the man responsible for a selection of immediately captivating alt-folk balladry, is more familiar to the Nottingham and London music scenes as the enigmatic Night Bus Revival, a pseudonym self-proclaimed as “a pleasing combination of the divine and the everyday, of something magical and life changing and something pedestrian and disposable. You’ll have to decide which is which, though.” The release of his debut EP, Tragic Magic, is demonstrative of such antitheses, and how they might be transposed onto the fundamentally contradictory human nature which Dylan perceives and uses sound to understand, harness, and express.
Tragic Magic, a work which effectively captures Dylan’s “sudden inertia... A messy existence coming to an abrupt stop”, among other things – intimate, painfully personal, and difficult – is unique. In expressing the melancholy of the everyday, Dylan somehow, perhaps in his sound design and deliberation on instrumentation, distances himself from other music which strives to do the same and he does so consistently and, in fact, actively. Such a distinct sound, though influenced by the likes of Bon Iver and Father John Misty, is accompanied by a detachment from the mainstream; Dylan understands this aspect of his music as follows, “[I’m striving] to understand myself and trying to find others that find something in the music too… It’s like switching on a distress beacon in deep space - I’m hoping the signal reaches some like-minds out there in the dark of the universe.”
“Lockdown meant really delving inwards, even more so than I usually do, and truly embracing the DIY.”
The EP, a composite collection of gut-punch lyrics and naturally disjointed sounds, opens with its most acoustic and traditional track, Nowhere, acoustic in that it is led predominantly by Dylan’s dazed guitar loop and traditional in its alt-folk invocations of one’s need to escape. Verging on misanthropia, the track samples bird sounds from “the Nottinghamshire wilderness” found shortly after Dylan moved to the Midlands and is, in some strangely twisted sense, an apt first acquaintance: Nottingham, meet Night Bus Revival. It is only after such an introduction, small talk if you will, that Dylan begins to move out of his shell.
Untitled Christmas Song, for example, instantly reveal a more overtly daring sound in dark synths and a man screaming “Life is grating on me!” This is a track telling of the impact lockdown has had on Dylan’s production process: “Lockdown meant really delving inwards, even more so than I usually do, and truly embracing the DIY. It meant really living with some of my demons rather than seeking to escape them or to distract myself. And musically it meant relying on what I could do myself, rather than collaboration.”
Jumping, it seems, from such an anger, a rage, Dylan lands on a collection of intimate musings on a woman, his woman perhaps – this is Socks (one way ticket to glorious space death). Though one of the strongest aspects of the EP is its lyricism – Dylan is, after all, a man with a “relentless writing process” – this ballad must be the most poetic. The subject, the lady in socks, is constructed slowly by images of domesticity, dish by dish, it seems, and Dylan creates a particularly touching kitchen-dancefloor landscape. It is only in the transposition of such mundane beauty onto far more mysterious ideas of space and escape that the subject herself appears to adopt a sense of the great beyond – she herself becomes a floating darkness, an infinitely frightening sky under which Dylan must live – but, more importantly, one part of a “human pair come face to face… with kindness and grace.”
The final track on Tragic Magic is perhaps Dylan’s most daring, at least in terms of sound design, attempt to introduce himself. 2:47am on the hotel bathroom floor was, as the title more than suggest, “was recorded on a hotel bathroom floor, the creeks and noises are from recording it with a phone mic in to garage band in a room that might be thought of as unsuitable for recording. It’s like capturing something from the eye of a storm, I suppose. Like shooting on location.” It is telling of the “intuitive and often situational” nature of the EP, and indeed of Dylan’s obsession with expressing emotion. Since Dylan draws a connection between personal and musical change, the ongoing lockdown and his relocation in Nottingham, he admits, has got him writing more and more. “It’s a life’s work to understand what’s going on in your own head”, says Dylan, “and I don’t expect to succeed.”
Written by: Matt Andrews
Edited by: Olivia Stock