REVIEW: Nearly Oratorio, “Tin EP”

Nearly Oratorio is the solo-side-project of Simon Lam, whose name might sound familiar if you’ve ever listened to I’lls (who sadly announced an indefinite hiatus in September last year), or Kllo, a rising duo with his cousin Chloe Kaul. With I’lls becoming as popular as they did, and Kllo quickly becoming a competitor to that level, it’s clear that both have one thing in common to thank for their successes: Simon Lam. Becoming more and more of an influential voice in Australian pop music, Lam delivers once again on Nearly Oratorio’s latest EP. Having been producing under the moniker since 2011, when he released his first EP Showers to some glowing reviews, it’s understandable that it’s been a while since we’ve heard from him. His latest, Tin, however, is well worth the wait.

Lam, who has years of experience in performance, singing, songwriting and production, creates an experience unlike any other with the five tracks on Tin. While I’lls has more pace, and Kllo is filled with swelling synths and pop structure, here Lam has created each track like a ballad or a movement. With no obvious choruses and verses, but vocals covering a textured and lush range of instruments on each song, it’s easy to slip out of one song into another without even realising. Of course that’s not to say that your attention is ever lost, but that in playing with conventional song structure, Lam has created an experience both in listening to each song individually, and as a whole. With vocals and instrumentation interacting the way they do, Tin is an EP which at first listen, may sound very melancholy. From the echoing sounds of a grand piano on opening track I Would Not – which comes full circle on the finisher Devonport (again playing with this experience as a whole) – to reverbed acoustic guitar on Veracity, we get the feeling that these are sounds that could have been recorded by anyone.

That’s by no means devaluing the production here either, quite the opposite in fact. It’s a result of this very stripped back method of instrument production that makes Tin sound earnest, it sounds all the more passionate. In a recent interview, Lam claimed that the record is “a very personal diary from myself, but broad enough for other people to incorporate it into their own lives. I think it’s just fun for me because it feels like I’m sixteen again. I really miss those first moments where you write music when you’re really naïve—it’s the closest I’ll ever have to a journal.” It’s this feeling of confident vulnerability on the record that makes it such an experience to listen to. His vocals are breathy, slow and fade in and out of earshot seamlessly, like he’s singing it to you personally. With more and more listens, it becomes increasingly clear that Tin shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as melancholy, becoming much more of an emotional experience as a result of the level of intimacy with his audience that Lam has achieved.

On Tin, Lam is wearing his heart on his sleeve with every song. While other songwriters compete to be bigger and better than the last with both their sound and their vocals, Nearly Oratorio is a project that demonstrates the power of subtlety and going against the grain. With so many other successful projects behind him and beside him, there’s no doubt that Tin will signal the next stage in Simon Lam’s already hugely successful career.

Image: Acid Stag