Musical artists shifting to a new style can be an incredibly controversial move. I feel it is pretty safe to say that most artists end up doing so—no matter how significantly—over the course of their careers, just because it comes naturally from making music for a long enough period of time. Often, such an action is met with criticisms of “selling out,” or with fans who simply don’t enjoy the new style and drift away, perhaps causing the artist to move to an entirely different audience. In other cases, such as Taylor Swift’s unapologetic move to pop music with 1989, it can serve to primarily expand an artist’s appeal. Personally, I can’t say I’ve never drifted away from an artist because of a style shift, but I always respect an artist’s decision to do so and try to use it as an opportunity to expand my horizons. In most cases, whether or not I miss the old style, I tend to find the new one to be compelling and enjoyable.
That is certainly how I feel about Midnight Cinema’s music. Not that they have made an altogether drastic shift, but from their beginnings as melodic-rock band Thriving Ivory to their reformation (minus a member) under a new moniker and their most recent, synth-laced and guitar-light releases in 2014, they certainly aren’t the same band they used to be. Yet, I find their progression leading to some interesting experimentation on their full-length release Lightning In A Bottle to be extremely beneficial, culminating in one of my favorite tracks that they’ve composed, “Nothing but a Name.”
I had the privilege of viewing Midnight Cinema’s December 2014 live web concert in which they debuted the song, and quickly fell in love with it; I recall getting my hands on the song and having it on repeat for most of that day, and I’ve never found myself sick of listening to it. It’s a softly determined anthem of daring to dream, to break off, to do what you want even if you have to do it alone, and it achieves this tone so well through lyrics and instrumentals that it makes for a powerful listening experience.
Primarily driven by a simple piano riff and a slow, electronic beat, the first half of “Nothing but a Name” is particularly soft, filled out by an echoed quality in the piano and vocals that gives a sense of introspect. It’s hard not to imagine lead singer Clayton Stroope singing these thoughts out late at night, when life-altering realizations can so often come, realizing that it’s time to make a change.
With the second verse, the volume picks up and Stroope’s vocals are backed by energetic synths and a powerful beat, giving the impression that, now that he’s made the decision to change, he’s taking action. Possibly my favorite part of the song is the end of the bridge, where Stroope sings, “Just let go of everything you have / well, there’s nothing left / nothing to hold you back,” and on the last word everything but the piano cuts out, leaving the vocals to echo forward as if he’s standing at the edge of a canyon, proclaiming his freedom.
If you are for some reason exclusively interested in music with guitar in it, I suppose the stylistic departure of “Nothing but a Name” might be a disappointment. However, it is ultimately a logical and exceptionally effective progression of the melodic music the band produces. This song and others have given them a new sound, one that I’d love to see them move forward with in the case that they continue making music, and if you listen to nothing else that they’ve done, I insist that you at least give “Nothing but a Name” and its daring optimism a listen.