Review - Shaun Panda Nicolson

Shaun Panda Nicolson's debut album 
Songs From the Pink Room is released next month, thanks to Lights & Lines, and Susan Omand got an early listen ...

Welcome to my new favourite album.

In the stunned internet silence that will follow that statement, and just before the “but what abouts” start, let me explain. You know how you have a favourite mug – the one whose handle moulds to your hand and makes the tea taste so much better than any of the other mugs, cups and ornate bone china you’ve ever tried? Or the favourite shirt – the one that you can wear for any occasion because you know it looks good and makes you feel good and gives you that extra boost? The thing that is just “right” for you when you need it and leads you to your happy place? This album does this for me. So much so, that I have pre-ordered the CD, just so that I have it for real as well as listening digitally [and for an Aberdonian to spend actual money on something is a HUGE deal! – Ed]

I have been a fan of Shaun Panda Nicolson’s work since I first heard Everything Ends last year as part of Lights & Lines record label’s Summer Singles series. That was the song from the whole series that has stuck with me, I adore it and I listen to it often but, to be honest, because of that, I was a bit trepidatious about approaching the album. Would EE be an anomaly? Might I spoil the love I have for the single with an album that didn’t live up to my internal hype?

As you may have guessed by my opening line, yes, dear reader, the album does live up to, and indeed surpasses, every expectation. It’s not long, just under half an hour, but the nine tracks are all superb, there is no filler here, nothing out of place, nothing needing skipped. In fact, I have played the album so often in the last few days that I now know all the words and can sing it [badly!- Ed] non-stop from beginning to end, so it certainly passes this old grey whistle test.

To Sea opens the set, stripped back with the noise of waves and foghorns underpinning an insistent acoustic guitar driving the rhythm – it reminds me a lot of the music of the sadly no more indie band Under a Banner and will really appeal to their fans. This sparse setting allows Shaun’s voice and lyrics to take centre stage. I must talk about Shaun’s voice – it’s hypnotic and addictive. His singing has a real intensity of tone with a rough edge which should never be over produced or polished and he has that certain something that means I could just listen to his voice for days. It’s also lovely to hear his accent coming through in his singing, he hasn’t gone all mid-Atlantic like a lot of Scottish singers do.

The Watcher is next with exquisitely layered vocals over the acoustic backing, then Green Pendant has one of the best opening lines with “Your eyes could shatter glass” – with a wonderful glottal stop on the shatter – and the layering continues with the instruments here, from a simple strummed rhythm, to arpeggios, individual phrasing and the unexpected addition of the accordion. Broken Knee lifts the tempo but keeps the lyrics front and centre and I love the unresolved chord progression at the end of it. My favourite song, Dive, marks the mid-point of the album – two words for that one: utter genius.

The Artist is probably the most difficult for me to describe as I couldn’t get past the idea that it’s what would happen if REM were Scottish and wrote about the concept of Van Gogh – I know what I mean [I’m glad someone does – Ed]. More Than a Memory follows and has another, literally, cracking opening lyric with “I’d like to smash your face in, pound it into the ground” over a slow and subtle acoustic backing, showcasing Nicolson’s vocal range and clarity to the full. Sleep is the penultimate track on the album and is just heartbreaking for me, connecting on so many levels.

Everything Ends does indeed end the album and it’s SO good to hear it again, now in the context of the other songs. Far from just being the one-off absolute masterpiece that I know and love, it is now the icing on a sumptuously lyrical cake where every track, every layer, adds something stand-out to a whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts.

With guitar-led singer-songwriters being such a “thing” just now, Shaun Panda Nicolson needs to get his music out to as wide an audience as possible and I think this is the album that could do it for him. But his work isn't just a fad, a one hit wonder, he could easily pack out local venues for years to come with that gorgeous voice and heartfelt lyricism but I’d also love to see him play at Celtic Connections or some such other world stage.

So, yes, welcome to my new favourite album. It makes everything all right again for me.

Songs From the Pink Room is released on CD and download available on Bandcamp from 31st March 2023 [although if you pre-order the CD you may get it early! - Ed] with four tracks available to listen to now. Worldwide streaming release is on 15th May 2023.

Images - Shaun Panda Nicolson/Lights & Lines

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