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2020 Ambient #1: Nyx Nótt — Aux Pieds de la Nuit

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

To kick off the first article in what I hope will be a long-lasting series, it felt right that I’d discuss Nyx Nótt’s Aux Pieds de la Nuit.

Most people who have listened to this album were probably introduced to it by its creator’s legacy, Aidan Moffatt, as one half of the infamous Scottish band, Arab Strap. Moffatt has painted in many different indie-rock palettes: electronica-tainted folk as well as the grandiose heights of post-rock, and according to their Bandcamp bio, have been described as “the Proclaimers from hell”. I’d go further and say they’re like if Slint and the Proclaimers went on a night out. Moffatt has also released music under the names Angry Buddhist, L. Pierre (fka Lucky Pierre), and many others, including his own name. Moffatt is known for his strong Scottish brogue, gritty lyrical realism, and his Sprechstimme vocal delivery. He is singlehandedly one of my main inspirations for writing poetry and performing it live. However, this first release under the Nyx Nótt moniker is the first album (to my knowledge) Moffat has released that is fully instrumental.

Aux Pieds de la Nuit was released February 14th, 2020 — a full month before the first lockdown and has been a wealth of solace since. In the first few months of the pandemic, I spent the days watching the neighbours through the front window: anxiously reading every piece of news related to Coronavirus as I could, and trying to be productive, filling in all the available time as a way to offhand the feelings of guilt I developed during the pandemic. At night I lay in bed unable to sleep, next to my partner who was fully asleep. I felt so distanced from her, like she was at a party I wasn’t invited to. I’d replace the actual sounds of night with the nocturnal soundscapes of Aux Pieds de La Nuit. The title translates to “At the Feet of Night”, and the name Nyx Nótt is derived from the Greek and Old Norse goddesses of night. This album doesn’t simple appropriate the twilight as an aesthetic choice, but as a devotion to it. As such, it is a comforting bedfellow for the peculiarity of nights that are just as long as the days, the hours stretched out horizons.

I’ve recently got into Night Clerk Radio, a podcast that discusses vapourwave and its adjacent genres. Their fourth episode concentrates on Dark Ambient, and specifically looks at the albums Miles to Midnight and SOLARIS. In the words of the podcast’s presenters, vapourwave, and the genres linked to it, are related to hauntology as it is music haunted by the past, and futures that haven’t happened, or will never happen. Mallsoft, for example, is often a critique of the 1960s-1980s idea of a consumerist, materialist utopia: the mall. Mallsoft uses these environments and aesthetics as an attempt to ironically commodify nostalgia. Dark Ambient is also environment dependant, but generally more tense and contemplative. For instance, Miles to Midnight is a concept album of a retiring detective solving one last case in a haunted hotel.

While a lot of Dark Ambient albums tend to focus on one environment as a concept, Aux Pieds de la Nuit shifts through many. Each track has the feel of a Suburban Gothic tale: of Edward Scissorhands in his castle above the town, the Stepford Wives, Donnie Darko or anything Lynchian. The façade of normality hides the evil within: the black behind the pastel. If Dark Ambient is the materialism of memories or environments half remembered, or experienced within a dream, then Aux Pieds de la Nuit falls into this definition.

The first track on the album, ‘Mickey Mouse Strut’ opens with record hiss and hushed drum brushes washed in reverb, that could be the composition for a Disney noir — Disneyland through the fog. The opener is eerie, it’s shuffling, dusky jazz samples and brass evoke a sense of weariness. The feeling of unease you might get, driving into the fog in Silent Hill. There are other subtly horrifying moments, such as the sampling of cricket song and chimes drifting into ‘The Prairie’. The ebb and flow of the synths and Morricone-esque guitar twang shines with the cinematic thrall of Twin Peaks. But, with the first episode of Twin Peaks 30 years before this record was released, it’s like Agent Cooper driving into the town on a loop, knowing how events will unfold, unable to change a thing.

If this album could be described as a concept album, then Moffat’s insomnia would be the concept that threads each composition. Tracks like opener ‘Mickey House Strut’ are dejected and weary, of what is never shown. However, ‘Shirley Jackson on Drums’ is positively manic, with ghostly brass samples and creeping piano leads. which break into rain samples and synths that carry the calm euphoria someone may feel when they finally acknowledge their situation. ’Long Intervals of Horrible Sanity’ references a letter written by Edgar Allen Poe to a fan — a tongue-in-cheek reference, that feels exemplary of our time. It’s also a reference to Moffat’s interests in the macabre, and his literary realism all the same. The dissonant brass, like on 'Shirley Jackson on Drums', has the potential to reach epic heights and yet it trails off or burns out in the dusk. The thunderclouds threaten above, the alien purr of creatures in the black grass, and the creaks and groans of night are enduring.

The dreamworld of our unconscious, the unpredictable extremities of insomnia, bleeds through the curtain into what’s considered normal and acceptable. The crushing cycle of day and night. Aux Pieds de la Nuit is a cathartic, crepuscular journey through a dark place, and yet, it can feel like driving through purgatory. When listening to this album late at night, next to my sleeping partner, feeling like I’m locked out from a place where things are better somehow, the profound melancholia of this project is a guide through the vast horizon of dusk, until the sun’s first rays creep up the walls.

Further Reading & Links:

Miles To Midnight by Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect

Secret Meeting review of Aux Pieds de la Nuit


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