Published Mar 31, 2020For the last few years, Nightwell have been among the Ontario alt-rock scene's best-kept secrets. The Toronto band have released a steady stream of singles and teasers while working toward a full studio release — now, they've come to kick the door down. There's already an audience carved out for them among the province's current crop of emo-rock and pop punk acts like Rarity, Locket, Seaway, Like Pacific and Heavy Hearts, and Nightwell's eponymous debut has everything they'll need to join those ranks and have a go at becoming the next Silverstein.
This is a really well-made record from a talented group that has a strong command of their skills as individuals and as a group. The addition of new singer Jason Emsallem rounds it out perfectly, his voice alternately soaring above and nestling within the band's moody, forceful sound. Nightwell is expertly produced, with the kind of tight, punchy sound and glossy, arena-ready vocals that are prerequisites for a band descended from mid-'00s post-hardcore like Saosin, Emarosa and Funeral for a Friend.
The guitars are denser than lead, with riffs occasionally reminiscent of the more metal-inclined Misery Signals and Letlive. They borrow the slightest bit from electronic pop, with thumps and pops of a drum machine that add a little extra something to these guitar-rock arrangements. At times, they wear their influences a little too baldly — in "Runaway," there is both an overt lyrical reference to Citizen and a blatant similarity to a song from that band's album Youth — but on the whole, the album scans mainly as an homage to the best of the past 20 years of emo-rock.
Throughout the record, Emsallem agonizes over relationships, picking apart the anxieties and conflicts that make them fall apart. "Confident" opens the record with a steady beat and a huge, chorus, reckoning with a friend who's gone down a bad path. "Drive" is a haymaker of emotive alt-rock about trying to run away from an argument that needs to happen. The surprisingly sunny pop rock of "Medicate" is an earned respite from the melodrama, but don't let it make you think this isn't an equally gloomy song about the danger of feeling numb.
Only at the end of the album's dramatic and cleverly hooky finale "Ball in a Box" do Nightwell fully let loose and break out the harder edge of post-hardcore, with Emsallem showing he's not only got the voice of an alt-rock crooner but also the screamo pipes to hang with a Shane Told or a Jeremy McKinnon.
Nightwell's statement is strong, proving they're more than capable of doing what they're trying to do; this is a high-powered young band. With room to grow, they can surely carve out a sound that blows right past the walls of influence and into territory that's strictly theirs. At that point, what you might be looking at is an unstoppable force. (Independent)