Album Review

Charlie Hickey: Nervous At Night Album Review

todayAugust 13, 2022 42

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Ashley Farnie

Assistant Music Director

I think I’ve been procrastinating putting my thoughts into words regarding this album because of the self-reflection it forces me into. Its eerie proximity to the life of 20-something-year-olds in whatever era of the world we want to categorize this as exhibits Charlie’s intentional and direct lyricism. His hyperawareness of his mental state and the ability to transcribe his feelings into words supplies our generation with a voice for the voiceless. Through my constant replaying of this album, I have discovered feelings I am familiar with that I was unable to put words to myself.

Charlie Hickey playing acoustic guitar under blue lighting in a dark suit jacket atop a white shirt.
Charlie Hickey on acoustic guitar at Emo’s Austin opening for Wolf Alice. / Ashley Farnie KTSW.

Maybe I am biased because I had the opportunity to meet Charlie in-person and experience his character, but Nervous At Night is a melodic, melancholic masterpiece. The album cover depicts the thematic elements of the album: Charlie standing solitary in the middle of the road, unclear from the haze of streetlights polluting the scene, and the dusky blue of the horizon, showcasing either the early dawn or the late dusk. Charlie explores adolescence in all its complexity, detailing personal relationships and self-recognition. Claiming the influence of musical fathers Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst, Charlie’s confessional and calculated lyricism communicates a depth of emotion characteristic of contemporary complexities. 

Bridgers (left) sings, eyes closed, dressed in a heather grey suit. Hickey (right) plays acoustic guitar in business attire.
Phoebe Bridgers and Charlie Hickey perform “Ten Feet Tall” at SXSW 2022 / Ashley Farnie KTSW

Prefaced with singles “Gold Line,” “Dandelions,” and titular track “Nervous At Night,” Charlie welcomed us into his dreamy, distorted view of reality. These tracks introduce the consistent dreamy synths throughout the album, layered to mimic flowing water, allowing Charlie’s stream of consciousness to flow. The distant distortion of lingering guitar strings mimics the daze of adolescent anxieties, and Charlie’s layered vocals lull the listener into a meditative, contemplative state.

Charlie sings about growing up and accomplishing his goals, and the fear that accompanies such successes. “Nervous At Night” centers around its inquisitive, accusatory bridge where Charlie asks us “do you ever get nervous? Do you ever get everything you want?” Charlie brings to light his personal anxieties with his success in the music industry and relates it to a generational consensus on the fear of succeeding. This track was our first introduction into the album and encompasses the essence of the entire album in one song.

Charlie Hickey playing acoustic guitar under red lighting in a dark suit jacket atop a white shirt.
Charlie Hickey on acoustic guitar at Emo’s Austin opening for Wolf Alice. / Ashley Farnie KTSW

Charlie then released “Dandelions,” handing us another track to hold us over as we await the debut’s release. The distorted synths and Charlie’s vocal production through a vocoder maintain the dream state of the album. “Dandelions” opens the album with the lyrics “fell asleep,” and discusses “dreaming of sentimental stuff,” emblematic of Nervous At Night. Charlie finds tragic beauty in a contemplative state during a time of inaction. 

Track 2 of the album and the third and final single, “Gold Line” begins with a melodic verse ascending into an indie rock chorus, a progression consistent throughout many of Hickey’s songs. Charlie’s employment of a pop song structure allows his cathartic lyricism to be well received by his audience. With help from his producer friends, Charlie perfectly pairs his lyricism with a sonic quality emblematic of themes of adolescence and uncertainty. 

Earlier this year Charlie released music for “Gold Line,” watch it here [https://youtu.be/xldmPYahY54]. 

Charlie welcomes us further into his personal life, discussing his role within his family in “Mid Air.” Charlie’s relatability gives his music further significance within this generation, singing about his “case of normal child syndrome,” allowing his music to appeal to the masses. Charlie communicates a confidence to express emotions and his precise diction communicates the specificity of seemingly insignificant moments. Charlie creates a space to feel in all capacities and provides us with a hopeful optimism, singing “you said that I’d be fine, I’m gonna prove you right.”

Band member playing the guitar
Hickey plays his red electric guitar at SXSW 2022 / Ashley Farnie KTSW

The fingerpicking of “Mid Air” dwindles into silence as “Thirteen” begins its own chord progression. Charlie played “Thirteen” before its release when opening for Wolf Alice on their Blue Weekend tour – which I had the opportunity to see in both Austin and Houston! Charlie communicates the innocence and ignorance of youth impacting you in adolescence, ending on yet another hopeful night with Charlie his involvement with the past. Charlie’s exploration of his emotion through songwriting depicts the process of growing into oneself.

Charlie counts us into “Missing Years,” a track depicting the incapability felt in early adolescence, only resolved by the presence of a certain person. Charlie’s dependence on this individual makes up for the insignificance his immaturity gives him.

 Charlie Hickey playing acoustic guitar under blue lighting in a dark suit jacket atop a white shirt.
Charlie Hickey on acoustic guitar at Emo’s Austin opening for Wolf Alice. / Ashley Farnie KTSW

“Every Time I Think” is a hopeless ballad longing for the limited intimate moments experienced with someone. A nostalgic mood lingers throughout the album atop the dreamy reverb of Charlie’s electric guitar. 

Track 6 fades out into the bedroom pop lead single and titular track, “Nervous At Night,” before Charlie brings the energy back down with “Springbreaker.” Charlie showcases his vocal range, soothing the listener amidst a piano ballad interlaced with violins.

Nervous At Night builds into what I consider my three favorite tracks. I should have noted that this article is exclusively for those who enjoy reveling in their emotions rather than using music as an escape. 

“Choir Song (I Feel Dumb)” begins with subtle piano keys mimicking the sound of a music box. I feel safe inside this little echo chamber Charlie created for those who live inside of their own heads. Confessional and self-deprecating, Charlie communicates the toll relationships take on individuals, especially when predisposed to mental health stressors, like anxiety. This track forces you to contemplate past personal decisions and bittersweetly revel in self-awareness.

Charlie carries us into an indie rock track full of nostalgia. “Month of September” documents the struggles of maintaining relationships when in different tracks of life. Charlie’s album embodies adolescent anxiety and contemporary expectations of success. While in between the busyness of touring, Charlie has time to reflect on his experiences and expresses his sentiments through thoughtful lyricism. Charlie depicts the confusion of adolescence and the uncertainty of choices. Charlie visually represents the experience of a 20-something-year-old in today’s social climate as an “emergency room,” an eternity of waiting for something to happen. 

Charlie concludes Nervous At Night with an appreciative ballad for the rarity of his love interest. “Planet With Water” portrays Charlie’s ability to communicate the connection within this relationship, relating her presence to earth’s ability to sustain life. 

While Charlie writes for himself, he simultaneously speaks for a generation. Contemporary struggles are not often explicitly stated, but Charlie provides recognition and understanding. Charlie Hickey’s debut album exhibits a masterful articulation of intense and specific lyricism vulnerable enough to be generationally universal. 

Image Credit: charliehickey.com

Written by: ktsw899

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