THERE’S DANCE SONGS THAT CARRY CLOUDS of grey just behind their limber bass; synth songs that get slashed through by edged guitars; galloping-at-you rock songs that curve to smooth enough to feel like Fontaines DC pushing out with Pat Benatar; a pair of songs midway that don’t change their almost elegant course at all but hold sharp corners close-up; and a final track that glides in almost tenderly, hovers on the edge of an electronic chasm that echoes back the vocal raspiness, and then goes on its way, not untouched but for now at least unbowed.
Without wanting to play too much with the album title implications, cacti sums up one of the most appealing aspects of Billy Nomates songs: you are never certain in your progression because you soon realise that a moment of smoothness can, and often is, accompanied by one that is sharp, painful or at the very least pushing against you. Or her. Especially against her.
The character(s) in each song feel a bit brittle, already pushed and bent, suspicious with good reason about what’s coming their way given what’s already been. When they’re dancing it might well be “on hostile sands/Me and the desert holding hands”. When they’re offered reconciliation of some sort, they bite back that “I didn’t come here to try to put things right/Don’t you push me, you know I just might/I only came, I only came outta spite.”
And when life spirals we hear “Well, living was a burden, I put myself in the hospital/Where every sunny day is just diabolical”, and she isn’t promising the friend/possible lover/fellow buffeted human she’s telling this to that this is a redemption song. “Not saying I’d save you/Love’s hollow and for the brave few/And maybe we were both born blue.”
But it’s not another victim tale; just a complex one. After all, in Blue Bones (deathwish), from where those previous lines were lifted, she declares “But death don’t turn me on like he used do/Nah, the end don’t get me high like the start do.” And that’s something, right?
Nomates is Bristol-based Tor Maries, two albums into a career that might easily have been scuttled by Covid hitting after the release of her self-titled debut, a record which spun a kind of agitated alternative to post-punk into a compellingly moody jacket. It was too good to be left behind.
First time around she was more inclined to hold herself in a dry-as-toast delivery that made even idle lines sound like they held potentially lancing barbs, but at the same time delivered almost casually so that you suspected that if they were directed at you, you would only pick up on their impact later.
I liked that record a lot, but there’s something sharper and deeper happening on CACTI, lyrically and musically. It’s more things, maybe to more people. Better still.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Billy Nomates - Cacti
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Billy Nomates – CACTI