- Thomas Nöla, Night of the Umbrella
(Self-released, cassette, CD, digital)
You never know what you're going to find when you surf the "Vermont" tag on Bandcamp. There's always a lot to sift through at the online music store and streaming platform. (If you're unfamiliar, go to bandcamp.com, search "Vermont," then click on the hyperlink that says, "music tagged with 'vermont.'" You'll be glad you did.) Recently, during one such virtual excursion, I came across Thomas Nöla's Night of the Umbrella.
Nöla was new to me, but he's lived in Brattleboro for about six years. After connecting via email, he explained that he operated a label called Disques de Lapin in his former city of Boston. In fact, he revealed, just a few weeks earlier he had put the imprint to rest after 14 years, choosing to release music directly from his website and Bandcamp rather than through what he called the "outdated" label construct.
Nöla described his modus operandi for Night of the Umbrella, and most of his recordings, as "claustrophobic, completely solo and lo-fi, though with hi-fi concepts." Musicians aren't always the best at talking about their own work, but that's a spot-on description.
Nöla released the album in tandem with Maple Moon, a less mysterious yet equally entrancing EP of, for lack of a better term, folk-rock. Again, Nöla is an odd fellow. Night of the Umbrella will scratch the itch that has plagued adventurous listeners this fall.
The 10-track album is eclectic. Avant-garde instrumentals — some the sonic equivalent of pastoral, impressionist paintings — are woven together with collage-like soundscapes and gothic rock. Nöla's lyrics sometimes read like Cold War-era coded transmissions: "Kite faction repealed / And no entrance to the shadow dome," he gasps at the outset of "Kite Faction," a noisy, metallic invocation.
Instrumental opener "Six Years of Silence" and the following, wordless "Ladybug Wallpaper" both demonstrate the breadth of Nöla's experimental aims. The former is a slow-motion waterfall, its synths pouring sound in an eternal flow. The latter is more textured, with tensile bursts unloading over a jagged foundation.
An unsettling, broken quality permeates "Lily Night Mirror," the album's first vocal entry. Unstable tones descend on Nöla's restrained vocals as he sings of familial terror.
Throughout Night of the Umbrella, Nöla seems hell-bent on provoking listeners out of their comfort zones. On "Dolphins of Venice" he deploys haunting pipe organs. On "Innermap," free-associative ramblings, delivered in a detached tone, populate an alien world. Just before the closing title track, "Moon Ration" evokes a suffocating vacuum. Whatever his method, Nöla primes listeners to be on edge, yet fully enraptured.
Night of the Umbrella is available at tnola.bandcamp.com.