It may be on the nose to begin an article about an album with ‘nirvana’ in the title by calling it transcendent, but I challenge you to listen to Cub Sport’s recent album and find a more fitting introduction. LIKE NIRVANA is 13 tracks of glamourous and wise songwriting that flex with all the strength of lead vocalist, songwriter, and producer Tim Nelson’s powerhouse vocals and the scope of some heavy reverb.
From Brisbane, Australia, Cub Sport has existed for a decade, although not in their current form. What was once Tim Nelson and the Cub Scouts is now the 4 piece of Nelson, Sam Netterfield, Zoe Davis, and Dan Puusaari. Following on from 2019’s self-titled album, LIKE NIRVANA arrived on 24th July and soared to number 2 on the Australian charts. And soar the album does. Whilst you might find the personal cost of oppressive forces like religion and masculinity amongst LIKE NIRVANA’s subject matter, the album surveys these forces from a place of security, even when admitting moments of doubt. Truth and freedom are album buzzwords. You’ll probably come away with the conviction that ‘Cub Sport had to write this collection of songs in the same way humans must breathe to live’, just as Poppy Reid wrote for Rolling Stone Australia.
For all its glamour, it is a testament to the band and Nelson’s songwriting that we are never lost in LIKE NIRVANA’s ambition. Instead we are held carefully through the glorious grand sound by lyrical details. LIKE NIRVANA has a terrific ability for seeing the little moments. It was this that first directed my attention onto the band, specifically this line in ‘Confessions’: ‘The truth is I didn’t have a great time at dinner.’ It’s probably the most mundane line of the cathartic track, but perhaps that’s why it’s so devastating. Everyone’s been in a room they should be over the moon about, but have instead felt sad. And I love the intimate langour of the vocal delivery, with the lines almost cast away. The processing of the hook feeds my textural addiction. You want those vocals to burst through, and when they do its a moment that would define a live show.
Another LIKE NIRVANA highlight is ‘I feel like I am changing’. This track has a lighter feel than ‘Confessions’. It’s a passenger seat, people-watching feel, and tentative, precarious joy. I’m obsessed with the recurring phrase ‘I used to hate these mismatched houses now they make me smile’. I’ve spent a lot of time in my own life thinking about how powerful the look of a place is, and how that becomes embedded in other parts of our lives. I love seeing that in someone else’s eye.
Just as I came to Golden Vessel’s colt through his Mallrat collaboration littlebitwild, I came to Cub Sport through their track with Mallrat, ‘Break Me Down’. I really wouldn’t shy from calling ‘Break Me Down’ perfect. It’s magical, like an incantation in its repetition. I love the layers, the heartbeat pulse, and the sliding instrumentation. The lyrics are beautiful: ‘I’ve been getting closer with my shadow side, my eyes adjusting to the wider lights’. Gorgeous. I’ve seen people question the length, but I love a long one. They take you places, don’t they? However, it is interesting the band chose to place it slap bang in the middle of the album and not as the closer. But ‘Grand Canyon’ is nothing to complain about as the final track.
As a final shout out I’d like to mention ‘Best Friend’, an ode to the relationship of Nelson and Netterfield (often Nelson’s muse). It’s one of the songs that feels the most overtly hopeful. There’s something montage-like in it, and the pace change at the end is so cinematic. A comparison to Lorde’s fan favourite ‘Supercut’ would be fitting. But really, I love each track of LIKE NIRVANA. And I think you would too. Annabel Ross for NME described Nelson’s art on the album as a process of ‘building his own church’. This is me inviting you to the congregation of these self-described ‘daring, open-hearted renegades’.