Nightshift are an experimental indie/post-punk group formed by the members of a variety of indie stalwarts on the Glasgow scene (2 Ply, Spinning Coin, Robert Sotelo). They are a group that even at this early stage in their career has a clear and very particular sensibility punctuated by repetitive hypnotic rhythms and off-kilter dissonant noises. It is a style likely to gain fanfare and sneering in equal measure.
Zoe, to be fair, is not the most out there or experimental record. But there is also little doubting it is a strange beast full of oddball touches calibrated to create a sense of unease in the listener. In some ways this makes it the perfect agitated soundtrack for lockdown. Not that this is a record without hope or sunnier moments, with the likes of the beautifully swooning soundscape of Infinity Winners, and the jangly guitars and squelchy synths of Romantic Mud providing some uplift.
There is sense though that the group is at their best when they head into darker territory such as on Make Kin, an atmospheric number which brings together Georgia Harris’s snaking clarinet, Eothen Stearn’s scornful half-spoken vocals, David Campbell’s sharp angular guitars and the pounding drum and bass of Andrew Doig (bass) and Chris White (drums) to wonderfully sinister effect. In some way the track is reminiscent of something by These New Puritans. And much like that act (who this writer is a longstanding admirer of) for all that is great here, there is also time where proceedings can seem self indulgent and weird for the sake of it.
Also, while many of the tracks envelop you with their dark hypnotic rhythms, sometimes they just feel like they are not really going anywhere such as on the soporific Fences. Plus, there is such a thing as too discordant as the title track proves. It’s a song that sounds like several individual musicians lobbing sonic ideas at the wall and trying and failing to make something cohesive out of it. Then again, even when it doesn’t work, such restless experimentation is certainly commendable.
The centrepiece of the album is Power Cut, an epic seven-minute track that is infuriating as it is infectious, encapsulating all the band’s strengths and weaknesses. Its mixture of melodious swirling synths, metronomic percussion and Stearn’s droning monotone vocals make it initially lush and mesmeric. However, it drags after a while. Its incessant chorus of “power cut, power cut, do you have a power cut?” threatens to drive you mad. Luckily just when you want it to end you get the introduction of Harris’s unhinged jazzy clarinet which reinvigorates the track. Even if you come away thinking a little judicious editing might have been in order, it still makes for captivating listening.
For all the minor frustrations mentioned there is a great deal to admire here and Zoe, for the most part, is a bewitching record and it will be interesting to see how Nightshift develop from here.