2020 has been a tough year. Summer’s passing and we’re still under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing measures in place and with no end in sight there’s certainly an added tension in the air these days.
It’s during times of discomfort, anxiety, and uncertainty that music can show its true healing qualities. The latest album from Vancouver’s Noble Oak displays those qualities more than most.
Patrick Fiore is a multi-instrumentalist, born and raised in Vancouver. Horizon marks his debut with Last Gang Records and is a stunning array of textured synths, atmospheric guitar, and hypnotic vocals.
Fans of The War on Drugs are sure to feel the similarities in the expansive dream-like state of the album, but there’s an added synth-wave polish to Noble Oak’s music.
The album opens with “Morning.” Led by warm synths, light echoing guitar, a tight and soft drum beat, and a dominating piano, its a prime example of what this album can do. It has the ability to conjure an image of flying over a scenic wilderness, or maybe it’s just the feeling of pure bliss.
Fiore’s dazzling soundscapes are complemented by his weightless vocal delivery. The instrumentation seems to stand at the forefront of these songs, and Fiore’s gentle voice slides in and out like a breeze, adding to the floating sensation in songs like “Different Place” and “Just a Game.”
“Magic Eyes” is gorgeous; almost hauntingly so. The piano adds weight and Fiore’s vocals act as another instrument, moving like a wave through the song, carrying a feeling of pensive sadness. Soft percussion, including distant bongo drums, plays beautifully within the ethereal atmosphere.
There’s a meditative appeal to Noble Oak’s music, especially notable on the closing tracks. “Sight” has a glittery softness to it and, despite a sporadic beat, it encourages you to fall back and let it carry you; it feels like you’re being held up by a cloud.
“Hypersleep” ends the album with such grace. It’s the most vocally vacant of the group as Fiore’s voice only lightly echoes over the expansive instrumentation. His voice swells and dips throughout, building this musical tension that he releases near the 1:10 mark like a wave of satisfaction. It’s a delightful conclusion.
As smooth as the music comes across, there is more of a punch to a few. The single, “In Series,” is built around a solid beat with a retro-leaning lead guitar lick and would probably lean into funk territory if there was more emphasis on bass guitar.
And the mid-album highlight “Evaporate” has a way of pulling you out of the dream-like state. It feels like it’s letting the light in as the song swells with cathartic emotion.
There’s a sublime grace to Noble Oak’s music that stands on its own and with Horizon the twenty-something out of Vancouver has identified himself as one of the top acts this city has to offer.