Like many of you, my first exposure to Nik Freitas came from his involvement with Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band. Before Oberst’s first solo record came out Kari and I went to see him perform in Omaha at The Anchor Inn with Jenny Lewis. The Mystic Valley Band was already formed at that point, and they even played a couple of songs that ended up on Outer South. It was a weird show, because I had no idea that this new band had formed. So when Freitas started singing lead on a song, I was all, “What the hell is this?” I didn’t find out who he was until the album came out, and he was instantly my favorite member of the MVB.
I didn’t dig too deep into his solo stuff after that, but earlier this year when I found out he was going to be opening for The Submarines at Schubas, I made sure I was there nice and early to catch his set.
Saturday Night Underwater was still a couple months from release at this point, and he didn’t play every song from it, but what he did play was great. Not only were the songs good, but the way he pulled them off was very impressive. Since he wrote, produced, and played all the instruments on the album, he had to improvise a bit live. He had a laptop with him, so you’d hear him playing guitar or singing vocals or whatever, while he was also singing lead vocals and playing the piano. It was interesting. I’ve seen other bands use the same kind of device to fill in their sound with little or no success, but it worked for Frietas.
Now it’s a few months later, and while I’ve been listening to this album off and on, I hadn’t really given it it’s due until the last week or so. How silly I was to overlook this little gem. Freitas never goes for anything huge, which means on first and second listens the album doesn’t seem all that great. But, with continued listening, fans are rewarded with some deep, lyrically beautiful songs.
Not every song is amazing, but the songs that stand out are fantastic, and the rest are all good. The first one that caught my attention was “Middle.” It’s one of the more produced songs on the record, and features some electric guitar, keys, strings, a driving percussion section, soaring vocals and great words:
I wanna lose everything in the middle
I wanna share it with a friend
Fall asleep with the words we believe in
Wake up with some confidence
Working for a couple years with Conor Oberst doesn’t hurt a songwriter, I’m sure. And while there’s nothing on here that makes me think he’s the heir apparent, I am convinced that he’s a great scribe in his own rite, and he certainly knows how to put a tune together.
Even though I enjoy his technological prowess as far as performing goes, I find Nik strongest when it’s just him and his guitar in perfect harmony. Even though there are some background things going on behind it, I think “Affected” is the best example of this. The song allows him the opportunity to show off his vocal range, and his ability to paint a picture with his words.
I’m happy with Saturday Night Underwater for a couple of reasons. One, Freitas stays true to his vision by taking on all the challenges of making an album himself. He doesn’t try too hard to impress anyone, he just makes the music he wants to make. Second, standing in the shadows behind one of the great american songwriters of the last decade is a tough spot to be in, and when he gets the spotlight shone on him, he does it justice. It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to get to this review, but now that we’re here I can tell you that Nik Freitas is definitely worth your time. Check him out!