Nicholas Zork – “Promises I Can’t Keep” EP (June 1, 2018)
New York singer-songwriter Nicholas Zork’s most recent EP thrives on finesse and subtlety. With a fairly small catalogue of material in this stripped down folk-pop style, Zork makes his mark by focusing his effort on tightly crafted arrangements, making every moment count for something. The result is thoughtful, sincere music that is emotionally gripping without any need for pretense, spectacle, or forced melodrama. In other words, the songs are good.
Sonic texture is the strongest point for this short record. All of the sounds here – Zork’s delicate vocals, the all too essential acoustic guitars, and other instruments – are perfectly balanced. The drum production on the first two tracks is especially good, sounding punchy and dynamic without detracting from the songs or overwhelming the generally soft compositions. The full-band arrangements sound full without sounding cluttered. It’s all super organic and clean sounding, creating a spacious atmosphere that serves the purposes of these songs perfectly. One standout instrumental moment is the incorporation of brass instruments on the closing track “Watching The Setting Sun.” It’s a surprising choice for an otherwise straightforward acoustic guitar ballad, but it lends the song a unique identity.
From a songwriting perspective, Promises I Can’t Keep is a record that generally knows its strengths and sticks to them. Thoughtful, understated songwriting makes for very easy listening while also inviting repeated listens. The lyrical storytelling is very strong, managing to create very vivid scenarios with often minimal words. This is all indicative of an artist who is committed to the craft of writing in a serious way.
The EP is not quite “perfect,” with a few elements that could be taken in either a positive or negative light. The whole project is a little on the sleepy side, which is either a strength or a weakness depending on what you’re going for. The third track, simply titled “Interlude,” is especially hard to place. On the one hand, it is probably the most adventurous musical statement on the record, and a genuinely awesome solo electric guitar recording. On the other hand, it seems a little bit meandering and doesn’t have a very clear musical theme, which does not help the pacing on an EP that already feels a little drowsy. An interlude like this may be better suited for a full length album.
Overall, Promises I Can’t Keep is a solid showcase of songwriting skill, and should prove to be very easily engaged by most music listeners. There is enough sophistication to keep music nerds interested without alienating more casual ears. Here’s hoping for longer future releases from Zork.
(P.S. Yes, music reviews are happening now on The Haystack. I’m going to mostly cover Christian music with a special emphasis on music created by Seventh-day Adventists, but every so often if a significant secular release comes out, we may dabble in that too. These ratings aren’t “objective” and just reflect my enjoyment of the music, so you can feel free to disagree, call me trash, harass me on social media for my opinion except for don’t actually do that please and so on and so forth. We’re just here to have fun and listen to some good tunes, hopefully with lots of syncopation.)