“Nag Champa” – ‘Shaun Tenni’
“Nag Champa”, debut album from soloist ‘Shaun Tenni’, sees Highly Evolved’s second home-grown band from our own backyard. And as I slowly but surely wind-up for the season, another striking Melbourne-based artist – and friend of ‘Tehachapi’ – rises to the surface for me to review.
While new to the album-persona, Shaun Tenni is an otherwise musical-veteran, involved in writing and performing music since he was young. And “Nag Champa” reflects this. Songs construct these intimate, relatable vignettes of life through bard-like narration, stifled with neglect and reminiscence, both new and old. Tenni is well on his way to becoming a master lyricist, and his debut is a step in the right direction.
Floating around the forty-minute mark, “Nag Champa” feels better suited as an EP, rather, than a full-fledged album. Seemingly short-lived on a run-through, lyrical concepts range from the mundane-Metcard, to the angst surrounding People, Want and Product Placement. We quickly gain a grasp of what’s going on before being thrown into the next tracks’ ruminations. Moments of ephemera – lasting only a minute or two – are then interspersed between the lengthier three-four minute tracks. But despite length, they are similarly potent (if not more) than their fuller counterparts, offering instead glimpses – straightforward and succinct.
Subsequently, listeners can expect – in a bard-like fashion – an inseparable guitar/vocal set-up with occasional percussion (and perhaps bass). It’s easy to imagine Tenni sitting on a stage, in the corner of a bar or busking on the street to an audience of hopefuls with a message there to give. Reiterating: lyrics are everything – the accompanying music is more for effect than centre-stage. “Nag Champa” is more like a musical pop-up book, tracks divided up like fold-out pages, but without any real beginning or end; made to pull out a thread anywhere and start unwinding from there. I approached the album from both standpoints: listening to it, first (accidentally) out of order, and finally in. Unlike some albums characteristically held together in a particular order, “Nag Champa” deals well with the chaos. With that said, the elements of alternative and acoustic fittingly describe “Nag Champa’s” musical attitudes. Albeit confining in some respects, there’s enough change to dispel boredom.
“Nag Champa”, namesake of the album, opens with Tenni – presumably lighting a cigarette – flicking a lighter. Vocals faintly remind me of the now late ‘Powderfinger’ in tone. The opening acoustic guitar is a soft introduction to the album, while the electric changeover at 1:22 midway through the track is a stimulating link between chorus build-ups. Personally, one of the most developed tracks Tenni has to offer; musically, lyrically and professionally. “Want” then follows this, lingering in the shadow of ephemerality; officially 2:56, but feels like 1:30. The simplistic riff repetition in tandem with reverberating vocals makes for a hollow-sounding effect. Then the arrival of drum; the subtle low-pitched hum of synth/violin. And end.
You can never get what you wanted
You always want what you can’t get
You would be lost without it
You can never get what you wanted
The emotionally laden lyrics feel like scraps of an internal monologue, fragments of an argument – snippets from Tenni’s own reality which I wholeheartedly relate to. Just a patch that is the patchwork quilt “Nag Champa”, I suppose. Other, genuine ephemeral tracks, like “People”, and “Fuckupson” are considerably more repetitive; like petitioning slogans, catchphrases or rants. “Fuckupson” – seemingly apathetic in its abuse – is simply a three-line affair. Whether these are universally-relatable, is another question indeed.
Nevertheless, the longer songs like “Escalators” or “I’m Not What You Need” feel weighed-down by some personal, interminable history only Tenni or his closest relatives, would understand; the lyrics paint us pictures, but much of the detail is left up to us. “Escalators” reminds me of my transition from High School to University with its moody sentiments on isolation. “Paper And Glue” draws more specifically on school imagery, throwing me deep into nostalgia. For local Melbournians, “R.I.P. Metcard” is a comical take on the recent Metcard-Myki transition. My own personal frustration with Melbourne’s public transport system finally put into musical context: unbelievable. My sentiments exactly:
‘Myki’ is bullshit
‘Myki’ fuckin’ sucks
I’ll remember you forever
You will stay in my heart
All of this grows on you, surprisingly. “Nag Champa” is as enjoyable as it is frustrating. And frustrating only in the respect that it manages to encapsulate nearly every one of my personal opinions concerning life, the universe and Myki, in under forty minutes…
Reviewer’s Pick: “Want”
Stand-Out Tracks: “Nag Champa”, “Want”, “Escalators”, “Believe”, “I’m Not What You Need”, “R.I.P. Metcard”, “Oven Bake”
The Enantiomorphic God