“I’m a loser sometimes / I will lose my mind sometimes,” Jess Abbott sings on “Clipping,” the shimmering, tambourine-inflected centerpiece of Tancred’s new album, Nightstand. After the themes of self-empowerment and self-possession Abbott explored on 2016’s Out of the Garden, these lines can at first seem like a bit of a worrisome relapse. And in a way, they do speak to an unexpected revelation Abbott experienced following her transformation into a more confident person.
“After I became comfortable in this new skin, in truly being myself, I was immediately hit with loneliness,” she reveals. “I realized that human connection is really important to me.” And so Abbott began a new journey of personal exploration, one that involved connecting with other people just as much as connecting with herself. “I was reading a lot of books, learning a lot of new hobbies, meeting so many new people -- just taking in as much information as possible to try and figure out what it really meant to me to be alive,” she recalls.
History is replete with such quests for the meaning of life, and with Nightstand, Abbott sought to tell her story in a way that would both connect with the past and resonate in the future. “I wanted the album to have a timeless feel to it, so you could hear my stories of love and loneliness and sense that these are themes that have existed for everyone forever,” she says.
As with her previous work, the writing process for what would become Nightstand consisted of Abbott alone in her room with just a guitar, strumming chords and singing words until gradually songs began to coalesce -- though this time around she made it a point to devote three days a week for an entire year to only playing music.
As a result, when the recording process began with Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast, Generationals) at his home studio in LA, the focus was less on finishing songs and more on perfecting them. Working with Pesacov offered new approaches – and gear – previously undiscovered by Abbott, affording her avenues of exploration that dialed in the production and tone on each and every song. “My favorite part of each day was sitting down to decide which guitar we needed to use for the song we were recording,” recalls Abbott. “It sounds so simple and I know most records are made this way, but it was my first time actually being able to do that and I loved it.”
The positive effects of this nourishing environment are evident throughout Nightstand, as on propulsive first single “Reviews,” showcasing Abbott’s strong melodic sensibilities balanced with purposeful, well-placed instrumentation. Or “Queen of New York,” which captures the feelings of fleeting lust set against a metropolitan backdrop, all within an effervescent three-minute bop.
Of course, it wouldn’t truly be a Tancred album if the upbeat melodies didn’t also serve to sugarcoat Abbott’s often somber lyrics about the experience of being a woman and being queer in today’s society. But even she is quick to emphasize that there is still comfort to be found during times of isolation or alienation: “Ultimately, we are all feeling these things together, and that can be enough to feel less alone. There’s a hopefulness in the loneliness.”
Words cannot do this album justice, but here's a feeble try: sublime guitar playing, beautiful singing, and heart-wrenching stories of being lost and being found by and wrestling with the Almighty. <3 James Mahoney