Joyful Noise Recordings
RIYL: Pedro the Lion; Low; late night conversations that go deep
Cedric Noel’s music has a striking sense of intimacy, like he’s performing several feet away or whispering his lyrics into your ear. I first fell under his spell when I heard the heartrending single “Nighttime (Skin)” in summer 2020. Though Noel has worked in many sounds and musical styles, that song’s tender approach to slowcore indie-rock with understated instrumental arrangements punctuated by swaying choruses is carried throughout the 13 tracks of his latest album, Hang Time.
On “Dove,” Noel’s rich baritone is doubled by the lilting voice of Common Holly‘s Brigitte Nagar as they tackle the weighty task of caring about “trivial things like love.” He is joined once again by Squirrel Flower‘s Ella Williams on “Bass Song,” trading off lines against a backdrop of gentle octave chords. As a mellotron swells, their voices come together to sing about the difficulty of sharing honest thoughts: “I don’t get to say the truth / When I want to / But I want to.” By using the least words possible, each one has weight.
The album’s duets are undoubtedly standouts, but Noel is most powerful when he sings on his own. On “Allies,” he repeatedly asks a simple question: “Are you on my side?” The other voice here comes from Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” delivered at a Detroit Baptist church in 1964, one year before his death. When the song reaches one of Malcolm’s most famous quotes (“We must understand the politics of our community and we must know what politics is supposed to produce”), it is subsumed into a coda of shouts and clattering, lo-fi drums. Noel’s music might be intimate, but there’s a passionate flame blazing just below the surface.
– Jesse Locke