Naima Bock 12/11/24 @ Hyde Park Book Club

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Brudenell Presents
Naima Bock
Tuesday 12th November 2024
Hyde Park Book Club
Age Restriction: 14+ with Adult

Most of the writing of Naima Bock’s second album, Below A Massive Dark Land (out 27 September via Sub Pop), was a solitary affair. It may not sound it – it’s made up of strong, purposeful arrangements with a huge host of musicians; filled with cradling space and warm light. This will also come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Naima perform in the time since the release of her 2022 debut Giant Palm, undoubtedly a communal experience.
With a band of ten, three, or even just solo, when Naima plays there’s a rare bond between the musicians on stage and the audience. In their interview with her, The Quietus declared “after every song the applause and cheering is immense, so immense in fact that it seems to be coming from a different place than the usual formalities of a live show, a link between performer and artist forged somewhere deeper and more personal.”
It was in Giant Palm’s music too, a record that sweeps and swells, a chorus of voices and instrumentation that rises and falls as one alongside Naima’s own somersaulting voice.
It’s true though, most of Below…’s songs started life very simply; Naima alone, living in her grandmother’s shed in South London, writing just with her voice, guitar and violin. She’s no violin virtuoso but had taken it up as a songwriting exercise for its ability to draw melodies from her – a trick that undoubtedly worked, these are songs that drift into the back of your mind and settle there like fallen leaves, songs you wake up singing. The remainder was written on the road after those moments of audience connection, in the quiet that follows.
There’s power in the solitary too. Giant Palm was arranged with collaborator Joel Burton but going it alone in search of something truly hers, Naima found she was capable of more. “After me and Joel stopped working together”, she remembers, “it was an impossibility to even fathom doing arrangements myself but then I started learning violin. Playing it isn’t easy but writing melodies on it is”. Finding that she could go it alone was incredibly powerful for Naima, “I think I needed it, to be able to feel proud of something. Like, that’s me! That feels good.”
Once that writing portion is over though, this ends. The record is not a stark, stripped back affair. Below… still has that majesty that made Giant Palm so remarkable. Tugging the first record down from the skies and spreading it across the earth; there’s a newfound vocal power and confidence born from hundreds of hours on stage and the music sounds fuller, more tangible, but no less enveloping.
This can be found in the album’s lead singles. ‘Kaley’ feels fresh and surprising in its rug-pull choppiness but is distinctly Naima in its swinging, jubilant choruses. The accompanying ‘Further Away’ takes a different tack, drawing you irresistibly near in its simplicity. Finally, the hazy, luxurious beauty of ‘Feed My Release’ draws on the sepia-toned traditions of The Roches, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III but imbues them with the kind of stark confessional songwriting of Mount Eerie. Lyrically reaching deeper and darker than Giant Palm, these are ambitious, rich arrangements.

‘Kaley’ and ‘Age’ were produced by Naima herself and ‘Feed My Release’ was produced by Naima and caroline’s Oliver Hamilton who also helped in various places with arrangement. For the bulk of the record however, Naima brought her arrangement ideas into The Crypt Studios in London where she worked with Bristolian duo Jack Ogborne (aka Bingo Fury) & Joe Jones who were working together and producing for the first time outside of Ogborne’s own album, alongside a core band of Clem Appleby (Bass, Backing vocals), Meitar Wegman (Saxophone), Oscar De Guardans (Backing vocals, Electric Guitar, Harmonium) and Cassidy Hansen (Drums, Backing vocals) alongside and expansive choir, horn and string section. “I put my foot down slightly more this time but that’s not to detract from how much everyone put into it,” Naima says, “it shouldn’t be understated their contribution to the record”.

Having not gelled with slicker, more experienced producers, Naima found the duo a production team who were able to take her ideas and apply a boundless enthusiasm and meticulous attention to detail in executing them. They had a remarkable knack for knowing exactly how to record Naima’s less-concrete ideas and a flexibility in getting what she needed particularly when it came to recording her voice. “I do still struggle with singing in the studio”, Naima recalls, “we had to figure it out. I kept having to put myself in different places like in the hallway, or in another room just to be able to access something”.

During the release of Giant Palm, Naima spoke about how she left previous bands and went it alone due to difficulty enjoying touring. However, with headline tours including London’s EartH and support shows for artists such as A. Savage, J. Mascis, Squid, Rodrigo Amarente, Arab Strap, and This is the Kit, Naima’s feet have hardly touched the ground since 2022. Instead, what she found is her place in touring, largely entirely alone. “I managed to find my favourite little safe spaces”, she says, “its nice compiling spots like that in every city, now every time I circle back to the place, there's like at least five or six people I know”.

This is touring at its most romantic. “Traipsing around and playing music”, staying with artists, friends, or just friendly people and finding the artistic pockets in every city. Naima has always been slightly nomadic – living as a child between Brazil, Greece, and all over London – and that background has now led to a place where she’s truly fallen for touring and travel. This appears in the album title which comes from Olga Tokarczuk’s book Flights, a description of the view from an aeroplane. It’s a title that initially may sound imposing but in its context this vastness, dimpled with the weak glow of city lights, is a form of comfort.

These safe spaces bleed into the writing; songs written hiking the wide horizons of Tucson, Arizona or inspired by the residents of one particular Amsterdam hotel with a penchant for swimming naked in the canal behind. ‘Further Away’ meanwhile was written on a rare non-musical holiday in Greece, “after about four days without an instrument, I start getting itchy. So, I went to the shop and bought a tiny bouzouki and wrote it on that”. This became the album’s starkest moment, one of those rare songs that arrived so tender and fully-formed it didn’t need to be touched.

It’s not all grand vistas and clear waters though. There were lonely, difficult moments and clarifying conversations in these places around things like depression, family and abortion, relationships and break-ups and growing old that melded with Naima’s own experiences, bringing them into view for her, working their way into her lyrics and finding release.

It's these types of conversations that mean the lyrical content of Below… often yearns for more stability. ‘Gentle’ wrestles with ideas of settling more. “It's something I'd like to do one day but my tendency is to move, I find myself unable to feel fully at home in the world”, she says, “I just feel like it would be difficult to bridge that gap”.  The album elsewhere is often interested in the process of ageing. This comes in the reckoning that “gravity is just kind of slowly pulling us down” in ‘My Sweet Body’, a song where sweetness is gently tinged with a creeping unease as she sings “I cannot seem to look after this body”. “It’s beautiful” Naima says, “but emotional to think about and a burden sometimes”. The traps we can fall into as we age appear in the wry good time of ‘Age’. Naima saw this first-hand on a less pleasant touring experience staying with someone whose “things were better in my day” mindset consumed and warped otherwise well-intentioned beliefs.

This results in a record that may occasionally appear to contradict itself; communal but solitary, rooted in place but free, intimate but spacious. This, however, is what makes Below… comforting and familiar. Who doesn’t contain within them these contradictions, who doesn’t want things that are directly at odds with each other. Like the safe spaces Naima has found the world over, Below… doesn’t require all the answers, not yet, but provides a safe place to look.

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