Cub Sport – ‘LIKE NIRVANA’ review: an unflinching document of trauma and growth

The prodigious Brisbane band outdo themselves on their gorgeous fourth album

For Tim Nelson, incandescent lead singer, songwriter and producer of Brisbane four-piece Cub Sport, truth and vulnerability are vital, if slippery, themes.

Since releasing the debut Cub Sport LP in 2016, three of the band’s four members have come out as gay, and Nelson’s lyrics have explored his sexuality and identity in increasingly bold, celebratory ways – most notably on the band’s 2019’s self-titled record, the first since Nelson married his long-time, once-covert love, Cub Sport keyboardist Sam Netterfield.

On ‘LIKE NIRVANA’, their fourth and most stunning LP yet, Nelson is grappling with other truths: that liberation does not deliver permanent bliss, and that self-acceptance is a journey without a final destination.

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In the spoken word verse of track two, ‘Confessions’, Nelson comes clean: “The truth is I feel less okay than I thought I was / The truth is I’ve fallen into another trap of who I think I’m meant to be / The truth is I’m still lost / The truth is cold like frost / The truth is I love all of you but I don’t know if you love all of me.”

‘Confessions’’ chorus, which channels Kanye West and Frank Ocean, is the first of many instances where vocal effects lend modern, raw tones to the record’s ecclesiastical mood. This holy atmosphere is as consistent as the tracks are varied, allowing for songs to spool fluidly into each other.

Nelson’s emotional purge continues on ‘My Dear (Can I Tell You My Greatest Fear)’, where his voice and soul are laid bare over spectral guitar fuzz and feather-light instrumentation. ‘I Feel Like I Am Changin’’ picks up where ‘Sometimes’ left off on ‘Cub Sport’, with Nelson, back in Brisbane after a period of relentless touring, experiencing a newfound appreciation for home. ‘Be Your Man’ is an ’80s power ballad complete with dramatic Phil Collins-style drums while ‘Be Your Angel’ pays homage to Savage Garden’s ‘Truly Madly Deeply’.

Netterfield, fast becoming one of pop’s most passionately serenaded characters, remains a muse across the record, with Nelson oscillating between revelling in his love and questioning if he’s worthy of it. “And I still can’t believe you give a damn about me,” he sings on ‘Drive’, while on ‘Saint’, a lush slice of ethereal R&B addressing societal, familial and religious pressures, the momentary darkness in his lover’s eyes sends Nelson into a tailspin.

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On the baroque ‘18’, ostensibly a flashback to his fledgling relationship with Netterfield and yet another document of his boundless love, Nelson’s sighs match the beauty of his sentiment: “And if this right here is all we ever had / I’d die happy even if the music’s sad / ’Cause you’re the best I ever had.

Fellow Brisbanite Mallrat features on ‘Break Me Down’, an elegiac seven-minute incantation in which arpeggiating woodwinds complement Nelson’s processed vocals. An abridged cut might have sufficed for the album, with an extended version reserved for (eventual) touring. But the decision to retain the full, sprawling song on the record speaks to the band and Nelson’s confidence, four albums in. It’s evident in their staggering creative, aesthetic, and personal evolution, particularly over the past couple of years.

Having declared his openness to both male and non-binary pronouns earlier this year and choosing to identify as “free” – even as he remains plagued by insecurities in a way that is endemic to being a human – Nelson has achieved transcendence on ‘LIKE NIRVANA’, building his own church where queer love, begetting self-love, is something sacred and unassailable.

Stadium-sized glory might be painfully out of reach right now, for reasons beyond their control – but on ‘LIKE NIRVANA’, Cub Sport make a compelling case for post-pandemic superstardom.

Details

Cub Sport new album Like Nirvana

  • Release Date: July 24
  • Record Label: Cub Sport Records/Believe
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