To be honest, I didn’t expect to find myself writing that I actually enjoyed much of NERVO‘s debut album, Collateral, but the fact of the matter is that I did. Don’t get me wrong – there was a fair amount of EDM-pop kitsch to sift through in order to unearth some of the treasures planted by the Australian-born singer/songwriter sisters, but when those creative risks arose, they made the effort a rewarding endeavor.
Miriam and Olivia Nervo relocated from their hometown of Melbourne to London to pursue careers as songwriters in a rags-to-riches story that dates back nearly a decade, writing songs for the likes of Rachel Stevens, Ke$ha, Ashley Tisdale and The Pussycat Dolls before landing opportunities to write and perform their own music. While the style of their recent work largely mimics the kind of watered-down bubblegum progressive house you’d hear playing in a jewelry store, with Collateral they find ways to push the envelope just enough not to betray the album’s mainstream accessibility.
What’s more, the album features a veritable laundry list of collaborators from every corner of the music scene. While the sisters themselves often contribute vocals to their tracks, the voice of Harrison Miya certainly lends itself to the surging synth stack crescendos of the first track, “Bulletproof.” Clean sound design and a mainstage-friendly arrangement make the song a memorable starting point.
The next track, “Hold On,” succeeds in maintaining the pace set by the first, and while the drop in their Amba Shepherd collaboration, “Did We Forget,” is a bit anticlimactic, the melody carrying the rest of the song captures the beautiful sort of sadness that makes people fall in love with music.
That said, the album certainly isn’t without its misses – and NERVO made sure to cluster them all together for the listener’s convenience. The next three songs follow an obnoxious trend in which vocal samples of edgy phrases and anecdotes added into the productions do a whole lot of nothing for each one as a whole, despite apparently having been intended to inject some kind of attitude. The worst aggressor in this regard is “Hey Ricky,” which features vocals by Kreayshawn, Dev and Alisa – it sounds like a Nicki Minaj track, but only if Nicki Minaj had even less talent.
Luckily, they walk it back considerably with “Let It Go,” their Nicky Romero collaboration. The three artists worked together on “Like Home” two years ago, and Romero being the production mastermind that he is I was curious to see what they’d bring to the table this time around. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised – I never in a million years thought I’d see Romero’s name on a drum and bass track, and even if it’s more along the lines of the radio-friendly drum and bass that acts like Sigma put out, it made for an interesting departure nonetheless.
Another massive track came in the form of the disco-tinged “The Other Boys,” which (perhaps accidentally) borrowed a lyric from Flight Facilities’ “Crave You.” With an eclectic array of collaborators diverse enough to include Kylie Minogue and Nile Rogers on the track, it seems almost like a desperate attempt by has-beens returned to relevance in the wake of the EDM explosion to continue to ride that wave – but the music is what matters, and nothing about the song’s execution is disingenuous, down to Rogers’ soulful guitar solo at the end.
However, the strongest track is easily “You Will Love Again.” An incendiary synth lead makes this track’s drop a surefire main stage anthem, and a bittersweet melody compliments its bolder sections perfectly. Against this track, their Steve Aoki and Afrojack collaboration, “We’re All No One,” and the last track, “It Feels,” help the listener cool down from the frenetic energy that preceded them.
NERVO have drawn from their years of experience in pop music to deliver a strong debut album that proves them worthy contenders in the worldwide EDM community. As time passes, it will be interesting to see whether they make their sound their own by taking more and more risks or assimilate more towards emerging fads – but either way, nothing can take away what they’ve accomplished with Collateral.
NERVO has succeeded in releasing a debut album that isn't complete pop garbage, and we applaud them for that.