Nick Ward – ‘Brand New You’ review: relatable and redemptive emo pop

The Sydney singer-songwriter successfully walks the tightrope between bravado and self-doubt on his second EP

Since introducing himself via triple j Unearthed in 2015, Nick Ward has been refining his brand of emo bedroom pop as if in pursuit of a single goal: that beautiful moment of cognitive dissonance where you’re screaming depressing lyrics with a smile on your face, because the major chord progression just hits so hard. It’s a confusing and cathartic place to be and that’s exactly where Ward wants you.

The concept of acceptance underpins his second EP ‘Brand New You’. On its first single ‘Princess’, Ward realises that “good things take the longest time, 19 years inside my body and only now I’m glad it’s mine”, his voice reverberating with every moment of loathing it’s taken him to get to that point.

On the opening outsider-angst anthem ‘Alien’ (co-written by Tim Nelson of Cub Sport, who also lends backing vocals) Ward confronts his loneliness as a queer artist in an industry infested with toxic masculinity. A song later, he exorcises his feelings of inadequacy on the ironically titled ‘Steve Jobs’ with lyrics straight out of the millennial emo playbook: “I hate the way I think and the way I look, can you be yourself and still be understood?

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Ward’s grandmother, whose death he processes on the album’s E^ST-featuring centerpiece ‘Funeral’, is the EP’s guiding voice, a conversation they had when he was a child threading through the songs like a cross-stitch of his journey to self-acceptance. It’s through his grief that Ward finds clarity for his own life. On ‘Blanket’, he sings of the intimacy in finding sanctuary with a lover, and on the title track he asks what it means to protect someone you love when you’re so vulnerable yourself. By the EP’s closing song ‘Heaven’, Ward’s anxiety has transformed to optimism as he sings “the future’s bright it’s true, it’s a brand new day, it’s a brand new you” while the song slowly deconstructs, like a demo by The Postal Service.

But to dismiss Ward as any other navel-gazing singer-songwriter is to undersell his prodigious skill as a producer (also credited on production on select songs are Lucianblomkamp, Lonelyspeck, Jerome Blazé and Chris Lanzon). Restraint is a rare trait in any musician who produces their own work, but his ability to rein in his most indulgent impulses has paradoxically resulted in an EP where every song is so ready for radio you’re half-expecting Doja Cat to make an appearance.

And where his production on last year’s debut EP ‘Everything I Wish I Told You’ was gun-shy, Ward now reaches for Sia levels of maximalism (see ‘Funeral’) and matches it with beats so bass-heavy and abrasive Ye might’ve used on ‘Yeezus’ (‘Brand New You’) – all while still singing lyrics that could be found on the sleeve of an Elliott Smith album.

It’s this tightrope balance of bravado and self-doubt that separates Ward from other neo-emo revivalists. He seems unafraid to bare himself completely for his art, trading pretence for a confidence in his vulnerability that makes the conviction of his confessions all the more devastating. Anyone can stick a recorder at the end of their bed and wallow in their own malaise, but few can make it as relatable, redemptive and hopeful as Nick Ward does on ‘Brand New You’.

Details

  • Release date: April 29
  • Record label: Hunnydew Recordings
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