Essential New Music: Nightshift’s “Zöe”

One moment, Zöe sounds like it’s beaming in from a time when you could still buy rotary phones in stores. The next, it sounds like it’s singing the memo to self that you committed to your smart phone last week on your socially distanced commute home. That convergence, along with a heaping helping of pop smarts, makes it the record you need to hear right now.

Zöe is the second album by Nightshift, a Glaswegian quintet that settled on its current lineup just in time for the pandemic to cancel band rehearsals. The group’s lurching, swaying, self-titled debut from last year sounds like 1980s post-punk played from memory, but this time, there would be no jamming it out. Instead, Nightshift wrote and assembled songs by email, passing ideas and parts around. The result is both more streamlined and deeper-sounding than its predecessor, catchy as hell but not overly polished.

The clash between main vocalist Eothen Stearn’s conversational delivery and the group’s tight backing harmonies—and the undertow generated when a bit of screwdriver-detuned guitar flows against a purposeful groove—generates a productive tension that corresponds to the songs’ lyrical tensions. “Make Kin,” for example, alternates between slogan-like utterances and intricate reveries that could be notes for someone’s next therapy session. The album’s centerpiece, the seven-minute “Power Cut,” could be read as either a reminiscence of OPEC oil embargo-era, back-to-the-land fantasies or speculation about some challenging realities of a post-fossil-fuel future that’s not far off at all.

Someday, Zöe’s songs might be the ones that you and your solar-powered hobby band try to cover from memory.

—Bill Meyer