The work of Lafayette, Louisiana musician J Burton lingers in the gray areas between genres, content to explore the places where sounds and intentions blur together, and epiphanies are a matter of course. Over the last 25 years, he has fronted or been associated with some of the area’s most popular indie groups – and has also worked as a producer on some of those records. Veering between the folk-rock ballads of Dire Wood and the upbeat synth-pop euphoria of FIGHTs, Burton’s creativity always seems to be in a constant state of flux, with him eventually moving on to synth-centric band Talker and later recording and performing as Grand Nathaniel and the Ghosts.
But for all his musical detours and genre-loping adventures, Burton is first and foremost a storyteller, fascinated with the curvature and angles of a certain rhythmic darkness. In earlier iterations, he molded prog, synth-pop, and singer-songwriter aesthetics into a history of unpredictability and a desire to push the limits of his own creative process. But currently (having dropped the Ghosts and now recording as just Grand Nathaniel) he seems intent on digging through the ashes of pop music from the 90’s and crafting a sound that constantly travels backward to the glittering morass of sounds in the 80’s and on into the grimy spotlight of the late 70’s.
His upcoming self-released record At the Lagoon, which is due out Sept. 25, covers a wide range of pop lineages, while simultaneously discovering new ways to illuminate themes of redemption, love, loss, hero-worship, nostalgia, pain, and mortality. Recorded earlier this year in March, the album draws on artists like Prefab Sprout, The Blue Nile, and David Sylvain for its pop-collage aspirations. Recent single “Nightbird” is a simmering, emotionally driven look at truth and consequence as it pertains to the intricate nature of our personal relationships, romantic or otherwise. Burton’s voice soars over the lush arrangements, taking flight as it effortlessly sidesteps our defenses, landing somewhere in the vast chambers of our hearts.
Collaborating with Sara Crochet and Clair Burton on the accompanying video, he offers a suitably ethereal romp through darkened streets and some wonderfully surreal animated flourishes that create a dreamlike atmosphere in which his words and music linger for hours. We’re also privy to an incredibly intimate performance in a barely lit room as he intones these mournful melodies, as he continues to elaborate on the intensely personal sense of emotional accountability threaded throughout the song.