It’s So Nice!
Friday, August 30
“Blissfully honest. The talented comedian, actress, writer and filmmaker shows she is clearly unstoppable.” – Consequence of Sound
"‘Star’ is a lovely lope that finds Wells’ vocals backed by brushed drums, artfully unspooling guitar lines, weepy pedal steel, and a number of other tasteful flourishes.” – Stereogum
“On ‘Sunrise’, she channels confusion and frustration, singing of a backward, mixed-up world, but also keeping the mood chill with airy harmonies and acoustic guitar. Wells has conquered comedy and taken over film. Now, she's coming for music.” – NYLON
“Her wistful sound will likely attract comparisons to She & Him or maybe even Norah Jones’ approachable smolder, but there’s something darker in Wells’ 'Sunrise'. It’s not a Sunday morning sleeper; it’s a wake-up call.” – Paste
You may recognize Noël Wells as one year cast member on Saturday Night Live, the inimitable Rachel on Master of None, and the writer, director, and star of the indie feature Mr. Roosevelt, which continues to find a passionate following in the streaming space. But after juggling roles in the worlds of comedy, television, and film, Wells’ found herself at a creative crossroads, which led to the recording of her debut album “It’s So Nice!,” an 11 song LP that cinches Wells as not just a talent to watch, but a multi-hyphenate artist coming into her own.
“It kind of came as a surprise,” she says, referring to the songs that would eventually make up the project. While Wells participated in band in middle school, and considered herself relatively musical, she had never actively entertained a career in music. But after experiencing an emotionally volatile 2016, including career frustrations, a breakup, and the national tumult that surrounded the election, she found herself writing poems to cope, and after buying a guitar and taking lessons, she eventually started writing songs. “They were just pouring out of me. There was no pretense, there was no filter. I felt almost possessed, like I had to get them out.” She spent the next year polishing the songs, taking guitar lessons, and eventually looking for collaborators to help her record. “I knew the songwriting was really good, and the songs were saying things I wanted to say much better than if I just said them. I wanted to do them justice.”
“It’s So Nice!” is an engaging catchy experience that saunters through a diverse set of folk pop songs, country ballads, and bonafide indie rock earworms. While beautifully and tastefully produced, what’s most striking is the songwriting. At times deceptively simple, the tightly composed lyrics are filled with timeless aphoristic one-liners, sometimes serious, sometimes political, sometimes lighthearted and witty, akin to songwriters like John Lennon (Sunrise) or Tom Petty (Brighter Day), both whom Wells’ cautiously sites as influences. Under the guise of her playful persona, she deftly and poetically addresses the very confusion, patronization, and heartbreak that got her behind the guitar in the first place. “It’s easy to blame your unhappiness on something outside of you, the world is messed up. And I am totally aware and can make fun of myself about how many songs there are about being a woman on this record, but I really was going through it man. Like, oh wait, maybe life is hard not because there’s something I am doing wrong. Maybe it’s hard because culturally we really have this deep hatred of women, all of us. But then again, who is responsible for making me feel better? And I realized, at the end of the day, what if most of my woes really stem from how much I really don’t like myself? It’s a floodgate that had to be reckoned with.”
It’s this kind of vulnerable honesty that can be seen as the through line of the creative work Wells’ has done to date, and while a heartfelt examination of self-loathing may seem like a predictable area for an artist to undertake, there’s an air of unexpectedness to the album, ping-ponging from earnest childlike hopefulness to astute and acerbic political observations which keeps you on your toes, done so smoothly and effortlessly you may miss it. But on careful listen, you realize this isn’t an actress making a record for fun. It’s a musician finding her voice in a time of need.
Wells fits in alongside peers who similarly get lost in thought. The dark folk sighs of opener “Played For Keeps” echoes with the stirring vibrato of Weyes Blood. The country-tinged “Burn It All Down” sees Wells cooing in the vein of Neko Case. Armed with an omnichord and an acoustic guitar, she channels her inner Sharon Van Etten on the lonely “Follow Me.” Instrumentally, these songs build to subtly catchy choruses that showcase her natural singing voice, often verging on the casual talent of a virtuoso like Andrew Bird. But there’s no more obvious comparison to draw than that of Jenny Lewis, an iconic musician whose lackadaisical songwriting style and innate melodies go down easy. Wells does the same with her own unique flair on “Star,” “It’s So Nice!,” and “Brighter Day” — so well that it’s tempting to listen to them again as soon as they’ve ended.
“It's So Nice!” took roughly a year to make, with the bulk of the recording happening on and off in Los Angeles and Texas. By the time she wrapped, Wells had largely worked through her troubles and found herself in a more confident headspace. This positions “It’s So Nice!” as a retrospective album that contains a timeless authenticity and honesty she hopes helps listeners navigate their own complicated times.
“I really feel like we are in a sort of dark ages. The world is flipped upside down, it’s very easy to get defeated. Optimism and hope aren’t in vogue, but that’s what I want to lead with because it’s the antidote to the gaudy seriousness that is tearing the fabric of culture,” says Wells. “It’s kind of incumbent on all of us to figure out how to put something positive into this world, everybody has the capacity to. Part of that is embracing our fears, embracing our natural playfulness, and for me, embracing a femininity that is normally seen as a weakness. We could stop rejecting feminine attributes and the optimism we had as children. Instead, we could all simply agree to have fun, to drop this emotion-blocking baggage, and the next thing you know that’s what we’d be doing.”
It’s this distinguished, singular way of living that sets Noël Wells apart from her contemporaries. True to her method of comprehending intricate emotions by way of writing, the spirit of “It’s So Nice!” is best summarized by a lyric from “Follow Me”: “No I wasn’t trained to jump for joy / Or how to change the key / But I’m writing my own story now / And I hope you follow me.”