Album Review: Justin Nozuka – ‘Run to Waters’

Listening to Run to Waters, the fourth studio album from Canadian folk singer Justin Nozuka, is like going on a holiday: it makes you feel relaxed and carefree. As with even the best holidays, there are the few low points that, while disappointing in isolation, make the highs shine brighter.

Chilled acoustic licks with smooth vocal tones are the name of the game here. Wholesome lyrics blend perfectly with island-y instrumentation that makes for easy listening. Backing vocals are used liberally, complementing the singer’s own impressive range. As for his lyrics, Nozuka tells simple stories, (such as the joy of wayfaring in ear-catching opener ‘No Place in Mind’) with a sympathetic air. It feels as though you’re getting an insight into his own life experiences, such is its deeply personal vibe.

Ambient noises such as bird chirps help to sell the experience as something meditative; you won’t be popping this record on at your next rave, that’s for sure. Run to Waters will serve listeners well for a multitude of moods and scenarios, including lethargy, contemplation, and driving on a sunny day.

‘Bayou’ makes for a break in the cheerful, mellow setting established in the opening tracks. Hollow drumming and soft organ tones give a reflective, sombre mood. True to its namesake, the song gives the impression of traversing a swamp: thick, heavy and oppressive. Strings add a flash of variety, while the drumbeats that line the album remain consistently quiet, being more of a backdrop than an overbearing presence.

Like a summer storm, ‘Laury’ goes on to prove that the cheery first half of the album is dead in the bayou. A passionate, no-holds-barred plea, the piece invokes striking emotion, relying once again on sad string work to complement Nozuka’s pained voice as he sings, “Laury, I know that you’ll find someone.”

Nozuka is at his best when he showcases his nostalgic lyrics alongside his minimalist production (best noted in ‘Hourglass’). Unfortunately, he buckles on the long hauls. Both ‘Reverie’ and ‘Heavy Stone’ clock in at just over six minutes, and there simply isn’t enough fresh air to keep them from going stale. There’s no harm in pushing the boat out, but a six-minute song needs a solid hook and groove to ensnare listeners – neither of which are present in these cases.

Emotionally evocative when it keeps things simple, Run to Waters bears the mark of an artist who has a lot offer, and a bit to refine. Able to evoke a sense of nostalgia, the first half of the album is near-flawless. Though the second half is more ambitious, it almost feels as though the spell of warmth built up in the first half is broken, although closing track ‘Sail Away Mommareignites the spark.

While the dive into the depressive offers mixed results, there’s far more gold here than dirt. With his soothing, intimate presence, Justin Nozuka has produced a fantastic album and is sure to have nothing but safe travels from here.

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