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n1ghtmar3cat - Album Review: Rat Race

05 Aug 2022 // A review by Steve Shyu
n1ghtmar3cat is Dave Johnston’s alter ego and solo project, when he’s not busy drumming for Villainy or co-DJing as Delivery Boyz. Under this moniker, Dave has been crafting releases and remixing for nearly four years, and has returned again with his brand new, sophomore album Rat Race.

The curtains of this ten-track LP are drawn to the sound of gentle mists of synth effects, cartoonishly cute processed vocals, and a very delightful melody. Without letting the intro get too saccharine, the singing gives way to a deep, dubstep rhythm, paired with glitchy electronic clicks.

The tune Rat Race Feat. Missy has all the makings of a hit single. There’s beautiful and youthful vocal lines, some stadium-sized breakdowns, an urban-sounding atmosphere courtesy of the hip-hop beat, and extremely vibrant synths that evoke both a retro yet futuristic feel. The album is off to an impressive and highly enjoyable start!

As a fan of Imogen Heap and Frou Frou, I was completely astounded with how much Ecstacy reminded me of her music. It’s all in the layers of voices, intensely interwoven by what I assume was a harmoniser. That particular vocal sound just isn’t heard very often these days, so it’s refreshing to experience and hear it again. Pity the song is only ninety seconds long!

For those into trap-pop tunes by the likes of Chainsmokers or Jack Ü, then Don’t Lie is one you must stop by and check out. The chorus is essentially one big vocal hook, punctuated with loud, shuffling synths and chattering hi-hats, common in modern music.

There’s certainly no shortage of electronic effects and synthesisers on this LP. However, unlike some albums I’ve experienced, on every track a different roster of sounds are employed. Some personal highlights that made my ears perk up were the crushed snare drum effects on OK?, providing an 80’s background to a modern electro-pop tune, and the huge-sounding symphony of rhythmic, shimmering synths on High Hopes.

There’s also no shortage of deeply personal lyrics. In fact, the whole album appears to be one big expression of n1ghtmar3cat’s internal voices and thoughts. The best representation of this can be found in Time, a mournful, rhythmless and eerie “Wish You Were Here” postcard written to an unrequited and/or lost love. The track’s closing lines,

“I hope you’re happy now, I know it’s been a long, long time, but I’m still writing songs about you”

bears so much weight and emotion, you almost wish you could reach through your laptop and give Dave a hug.

The LP closes with some of the most melancholic and delicate melodies out of the ten tracks, particularly on the bittersweet Curtain Call. It takes on a slow waltz quality, and lyrically seems to bookend the album’s worth of poetry about relationships, albeit this time with closure. I put it down to the use of glockenspiels that evokes the feeling of a cinematic conclusion, but it’s also because of this closing line:

“I’ll wait for the curtain call, I wait ‘til the distance turns you into a memory”.

What a journey Rat Race is. Sonically diverse, with clever songwriting, lots of pop hooks, and some of the most emotive and personal lyrics I’ve heard in quite a while. There’s electro-rock, there’s dubstep, there’s trap-pop elements throughout, and more than enough soundscapes to warrant repeat listens to explore.

Here’s hoping n1ghtmar3cat returns with more horizon-broadening masterpieces!

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

About n1ghtmar3cat

As n1ghtmar3cat, Dave Johnston’s characteristic flavour of immersive indie-electronica | EDM | alt-pop fuses cinematic sound design with hook-laden pop sensibilities, demonstrating the many facets of his production, composition and songwriting arsenal, built up over a decade as a multi-genre producer and performer (Villainy, Delivery Boyz, MISSY, Yoko-Zuna, The Zoup).

Following a self-titled debut album in 2019, sophomore record Rat Race dropped in August 2022, with singles including Rat Race; Don’t Lie; High Hopes; and Hurting Myself (and I Think I Like It). High Hopes grabbed the attention of the Spotify curators, bagging features on New Music Friday AU/NZ, Top Shelf Electronic and other coveted editorial playlists.

Written, recorded and produced by Johnston in isolation, the current wave of n1ghtmar3cat releases channel artists such as The Weeknd, Jon Hopkins, Banks and Flume, combining textural, atmospheric passages with moments of intense energy to draw the listener into the headspace that the emotive lyrics evoke.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for n1ghtmar3cat


Rat Race
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Year: 2019
Type: Album

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