The eroticism of the cover of the self-titled Natureboy debut album, the outline of its front girl, Sara Kermanshahi, is down to two factors: the absence of make-up and a position that is completely natural, unforeseen and, one would think, almost unconscious. It’s no coincidence that they have chosen something like this (as well it being a marketing technique). Their proposal is a compendium of little gestures, furtive glances, and feelings set out in a bunch. We knew Kermanshahi from House On A Hill, her previous project, a somewhat more relaxed indie rock group of beginners with good intentions. From there, Cedar Apffel and Rory O’Connor, from Masterface, were drawn in. Add it up: guitar, solitary voice, small loops and almost ambient samples, bass and drums at the service of the heart, and you’ll come up with a dream pop fusion that reminds one at times of Mazzy Star, Cat Power, Bon Iver, or even Beach House. A complicated sum, but it turns out to be overwhelmingly simple. A handful of songs that are, in reality, half-opened doors to wherever Sara Kermanshahi is looking on the cover. From where we think her suffering and tempered bitterness spring.
In the more classic singer-songwriter line, the guitar are voice are a fundamental part of Natureboy’s first work, where the contrasts of diaphanous sound and her affected voice (which at times reminds one of a refined, clean, and sober Courtney Love) can be seen from the first cut, a tight “Curses Fired”, sometimes evolving into a happier sound (in “Pariah”, for example, which starts with distant claps and a happy rhythm that nevertheless disappear towards the end to underline the sadness that was hidden before). The vocal interpretation, by the way, manages to transmit the heaviness and the negative cadence of the songs, and doesn’t seem to be due to Kermanshahi’s technique, but rather to an honesty that is so genuine that it seems stereotyped at times. The instrumental work is also one of Natureboy’s foundations, as can be seen in “Famous Sons”, with that crescendo (with the added value of being carried out with the notes themselves and contained by ambiental layers and soft arrangements). And that’s not all. There are also two entirely instrumental pieces here, “Railroad Apt” (a great harmless electronic work of a contemplative, melancholic nature), and the immense “Dither”, in which you can smell the loneliness and it sticks to you like sweat on your back in the summer. Hypnotic and enchanting, it’s like a guitar Lego piece, as simple and natural as a small child running and falling down on his behind. Transmitting so much with so little has merit, and sounding the same over and over again. A master class in the sewing of sound, on a genre that I wouldn’t even go so far as to consider folk.
Singer-songwriters’ relationship with silence often determines their value as composers and their understanding of atmosphere and the longings that can be unleashed in the audience. Jeff Buckley was a master in this respect, and we see a similar guitar sound in “Bad Dream” (one of the songs to listen to in the dark, with a trembling in your heart), where Buckley would appear dressed here with a typical plaid shirt like Kurt Cobain in a surprising, effective mutation. Speaking of Cobain, in “Heart to Fool” we’ll listen to the concept of grunge reformed according to an eminently folkie artist, with a strawberry and vanilla heart divided in half (it has some darkness, but the preciousness always prevails). So, any black holes? Let’s remember: only nine cuts, refined and cleaned. There is practically no space for common error: melodrama (which almost appears in “Broken Train”, a piece of tragic sentimentality in the line of A Girl Called Eddy but without making you embarrassed for them, and quicksand that Kermanshahi manages to get back out of safe, sound, and unstained). Natureboy owes its name to the 1947 classic of the pro-hippie Eden Ahbez, which in its day was popularised by Nat King Cole (in jazz), as well as a few years ago in Baz Luhrmann’s “ Moulin Rouge” (with David Bowie on the mic), and the gloomier version of which is by Victoria Williams. The lyrics speak of a boy (a little strange, obviously) who travels around the world to discover, like the Last Prophecy, that The Best Thing of All is to love and to be loved. Natureboy probably began their own search based on this sentence, with this debut that throws you off with how well-done it is, and the primary equations on which it is based, whose songs nevertheless (as also happened with the more post-punk Lonelady) manage to fool your with their simplicity, slipping into your most intimate nooks and crannies.