Night Beats may sound like some vapid Franco-Swiss EDM outfit, but the truth is a little more interesting.
Nominally a trio, it now seems to be a temporary solo project for singer/composer Danny Lee Blackwell as of the other members, James Traeger has only played intermittently with the band since 2016 and bassist Jakob Bowde appears to have left in 2018.
Their fourth album, Myth Of A Man, emerges from a period Blackwell describes with some understatement as ‘particularly destructive for the band’, but this adversity has not only heightened his sense of songwriting drama, it’s forced a change in direction which may, whoever’s wearing the t-shirt, elevate them beyond a niche concern.
Lacking personnel, Blackwell not only drafted in ‘a murderer’s row of battle-worn session musicians’ with experience of working with ‘every legend from Aretha Franklin to Elvis’, but also revered Black Key Dan Auerbach. The transformation is sensational; with its roots in the acid-fried psychedelics of Roky Erikson and The Red Krayola, 2016’s Who Sold My Generation was alien and freakscene, and whilst its successor is no less dark, the singer has zeroed in on a rich seam of 60’s alt-pop for inspiration.
The finished product benefits hugely from a stripping back of the material to its bare bones and a simple collection of motifs which ensure the careworn background players have a free reign to do what they do best. Heartbreak lurks everywhere, whether on the sinister cabaret soul of opener of Her Cold, Cold Heart, the cracked flamenco of I Wonder or Stand With Me’s plea for faith in a modern world where it’s bought and sold by the click.
Myth Of A Man’s ancestry lies as deep as it does public, traces of Carlos Santana, Lee Hazlewood and Bill Withers hauled into a room by old hands and scarred hearts. Blackwell responds both to the heirlooms and the pressure of his cast by upping his game considerably, his voice one moment taking on the mantle of a salty bar-room crooner on One Thing, next a weary bluesman on the stand out Wasting My Time.
One of the most comforting parts to all of this is the scratchy otherness, a feeling even on tracks like Eyes On Me with its swinging, authentically gutsy R&B that none of the temporal distortion is being done as a project, but more on gut feel. Closer Too Young To Pray is Blackwood’s parting shot in more than one way, an airy MOR ballad on the road straight out of Laurel Canyon that passes his own judgement on an artisan craft barely evidenced before.
Applying some post-modern gloss to rock n roll is hardly trickery, but Blackwell’s ‘fallen angels, blood-sucking wanderers and vindictive lovers’ are sketched with a fondness which is roundly complemented by some uncomplicated virtuosity.
Myth Of A Man may not have been made by a band, but whether Night Beats as a collective or otherwise will ever surpass its superlative quality is a question for the man who found something inside from somewhere deep – and with a little help from his friends made it sing like a bird.