I’ve had a preview copy of Dutch band The New Shining’s new album Elephant for several months and I’ve struggled with my approach to writing about it. How to give it the justice it deserves. More than a mere collection of songs this is a deep and moving essay on the nature of depression. The New Shining’s voice and songwriter Nax has never been quiet about his struggle with darkness. Facing and embracing his shadow in a creative explosion with this bold and beautiful album he shines light onto subject that is incredibly difficult to talk about. I’m intimately familiar with the subject matter and for years I was unable to vocalize the weight that kept me immobilized sometimes for months at a time. I thought I was weak or just shitty at living. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to express to those close to me what I’m experiencing. Breaking that silence is paramount and this is exactly what Nax has done with Elephant. This album exists on two levels—musically as songs and lyrically as deeply personal prose. Both are equally powerful and combined they present an unshakeable and honest portrayal of mental illness.
The depth of this album is immense. As artists mature the wealth of influences grow and Nax’s influences on this album are too numerous to list. Nax is open about the 1980’s sound he was going for with these songs and it weaves through the tracks from synths reminiscent of OMD and Depeche Mode’s most brilliant moments to hints of Simply Red’s lush British soul.
Listen to Looks Like Rain via YouTube below or Spotify
The lead-off track It Looks Like Rain foreshadows the coming material opening with a synth line that would fit perfectly on the Tears For Fears debut masterpiece The Hurting. What I love about this album is despite the obvious nods to the, now vintage, sounds of the 80’s it stays current and firmly anchored in a sound that is timeless and effective without falling into a comfortable state of nostalgia. When the guitars fully hit in It Looks Like Rain they cut with rhythmic precision elevating the song to a fierce undeniable statement.
The New Shining’s bassist and drummer, Arjan ‘R’ Nijman and Roel van der Sluis respectively, are a powerful and unwavering rhythm section who set the groove for each song. Over the course of the record the tempos move like tides and Nax snakes his vocal phrasing effortlessly around the beats. He pushes and pulls his delivery using poetic meter on songs like Say It Like It Is that reveals a sophisticated approach to songwriting that strengthens and deepens the Elephant’s lasting impact.
In the role of producer on the album Nax demonstrates vigilant focus on detail. His attentive layering of instrumentation and his masterful ability to set a tone creates immersive sonic landscapes for each track. There are no spare parts or superfluous flourishes. I’ve now played these songs innumerable times and with each listen to The New Shining’s Elephant, I catch something I hadn’t heard before. Every sound serves its purpose to evoke an emotional reaction.
Nax never directly uses the word “depression” directly. Instead he speaks to the crushing cycle of shame that feeds the silence surrounding mental illness. The sense of futility that feels inescapable. In the chorus of “Black Dog”, one of my favorite songs on the album, Nax uses its title symbolism carefully to paint a cinematic lyrical scene:
So I feed the fire as I’m running thru the rain
I gotta catch the liar who is feeding off my shame
Every thought, every doubt, the black dog is never far away
To know who you are I don’t need to know your name
I know who you are
His voice conveys this difficult material with tenderness and compassion—not just for others but also seemingly for himself. From the song One By One, a haunting portrait of unravelling mental health, to the courageous lyrical content of Phoenix, “Oh my sun, my glorious sun, I will sing my songs for you alone, till my days are done”, the songwriter expresses the importance of a universal narrative of self-forgiveness.
In the press release for Elephant Nax speaks about wanting to help bring visibility to a multitude of people who deal silently with mental illness on a daily basis.
I feel strongly connected to those who suffer and struggle in silence. I’d like to encourage, comfort and inspire them by giving them a voice and let them know that they are being seen. This album is meant for those people. The ‘invisibles’, the misfits, the people on the edge of society. I’m one of them.
As someone with firsthand experience I can’t overemphasize the importance of bringing light to this inherently dark subject. With Elephant The New Shining illuminates a path towards a cultural conversation that is necessary and most certainly overdue. The size and scope of Elephant is unavoidable and it is brilliant.