After listening to Derek Nelson's debut EP, Something Obscure, it’s hard to believe the Chicago singer-songwriter played his first gig a mere five months ago, and that until then next to nobody even heard the material he’s been writing and self-recording for years. There's a confidence to the six-song collection - rooted in a rich, reflective folk-rock sound - that defies Nelson's newness on the scene. After seeing the songwriter's third ever show this summer, a SPIN writer described him as "a force to be reckoned with," and the quality of the EP certainly makes that a tough statement to question.
Something Obscure gives off an obvious admiration for folk rock heavyweights such as Bob Dylan and Wilco, but Nelson's material and vocal talents make the EP much more than a retread of others' sounds. The star of the show is “Tightrope Walker,” the most hummable track on the EP and simply a perfectly crafted folk-rock tune. “Same as Always,” a duet with fellow Chicago musician Kelsey Wild, is another highlight. It captivates from start to finish, sounding a bit like what might have happened if Jeff Tweedy and Feist decided to take a darker, more brooding turn for their duet on Wilco's latest LP. According to Nelson, he invited Wild to record with him on a whim after hearing some of her songs online, which makes the result even more impressive. Other tracks, such as "Ballad of Big Shoulders" and "The Way You See Me," are more subtle, but no less heartfelt.
After recording the EP, Nelson wrote in his blog: "Going into all this, I was about as clueless as a man could be. I'd been playing songs for the better part of a decade, recording by myself, and allowing next-to-no-one hear any of it...I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those who have ushered me from complete obscurity to relative obscurity." I'm not sure who or what finally persuaded him to let everyone else in on his music, but Something Obscure proves it's a damn good thing they did.
Download mp3: Derek Nelson - "Tightrope Walker"
Nelson will play a release show for Something Obscure - and his first headlining gig - on Thursday, October 8 at Double Door. Also with Daysleeper, Macguffin and the Adam Richardson Band. Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m., $7. More info and tickets.