Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Does Sky Ferreira’s debut album do enough to justify the delays and hype? EDWARD SHARP-PAUL investigates.
Well, it’s finally here. As frustrating as it’s been, you can understand why Sky Ferreira has taken so long to burp Night Time My Time into the world: she didn’t actually have much to gain by releasing it. Having tried on every outfit in the genre shop over the last five years, eventually Ferreira settled on eighties-smudged decadence for breakthrough single ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’. It was a hell of an introduction, but it was just a little too perfect, and set the bar uncomfortably high.
Fast forward a year and a bit. Having shocked the easily-shocked with a bit of left nipple, having courted schadenfreude with a right-out-of-the-playbook drug bust, having finally summoned the courage and the material, having fallen out with fallout-friendly überproducer Dev Hynes and fallen in with just-plain-friendly überproducer Ariel Rechtshaid, is debut album Night Time, My Time worth all the trouble?
“It’s a restless thing and hard to pin down”
Broadly speaking, yes, but it’s a restless thing, and hard to pin down. It’ll be either written off or lauded as a slice of eighties synthpop necromancy, but that’s not the whole story. Yes, there are the shameless plays at zeitgeisty Molly Ringwald pop – think Transvision Vamp, Psychedelic Furs and other perennial teen soundtrack lurkers – a more saccharine variant on the ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ template. The other side of that coin, though, is the clanking, vaguely gothic, industrial-tinged synth pop that rears its head on tracks like ‘Omanko’, ‘Heavy Metal Heart’, and, in softened form, on the excellent single ‘You’re Not The One’. Think luxurious beds of sound with robo-drums, and snarling guitars: it might sound like an unlikely fit, but it actually works beautifully with Ferreira’s coquettish performances.
It’s still all decidedly retro in spirit, though, and you suspect that it’ll be hard for some to look past this aspect of NTMT. To my mind, though, this is what makes it work. It’s a draw-from-memory sketch of the era that narrowly predates Ferreira’s living memory, i.e. an era of which she has no living memory. Ultimately, this is what holds the gambit together: the sketches are so hazy that they end up looking like something new.
That might be in some part down to producer Rechtshaid, who is making a specialty of this glossy, not-too-slavish homage business. As with HAIM’s Days Are Gone, he manages a mix of period details and more contemporary touches, packing the aural field to the gills. It’s a fine backdrop to drape oneself against, and Ferreira sounds like she’s having a lot of fun, switching between too-cool singspeak and a thin, vulnerable, Madonna-esque alto. She’s not a stunning singer, but she can get her point across, and the use of these two primary modes of delivery allows her to either play up or undercut the sentiments in her lyrics, in much the same way that she has successfully created a bewilderingly contradictory media persona through her public utterances.
Thematically, NTMT offers a reasonably innocent set of romantic tropes: love-as-redemption (‘Boys’), love-as-escape (‘24 Hours’), love-as-false-hope (‘You’re Not The One’). To be honest, Ferreira’s treatment of these old ideas rarely goes beyond reheated clichés – in fact, sometimes she just grabs the cliché straight out of the fridge. At their worst, her lyrics ruin promising tracks like ‘Omanko’ (“oh Japanese Jesus, come on”), but again, it’s the knowing delivery rather than the content, that makes it work.
The exception to that rule is the majestic title track, a numb lurch that only comes to life in order to die an agonising death of dissonant, nightmarish strings. It’s a big, smelly outlier, but all that matters is that in the pit of its embrace, you simply can’t tear your attention away.
Its arresting power makes the occasional flippant tone of the rest of the album a little frustrating, and makes it clear that Ferreira is more comfortable playing among the shadows. You can’t blame her for trying to lighten the mix, though: Sky Ferreira is aiming for the stars, and stars simply aren’t born in the bottom of a dark, terrifying well.