- Back in 2010, Nocturnal Sunshine was the feather in Maya Jane Coles' cap. The project's impressive dubstep-inspired hit, "Can't Hide The Way I Feel," showed that she was about more than just catchy tech house. More crucially, its popularity proved she wouldn't be a one hit wonder in the wake of the massive "What They Say." It was also one of that year's best dubstep tracks—we're talking the nebulous, garage-y 2010 definition of dubstep here—which made it disappointing to see Coles virtually retire the project once she became a house superstar. But three years since the last hint of a new Nocturnal Sunshine track, the alias makes an unexpected comeback with a new full-length. And even if a lot of this music, mostly sitting around 138 BPM, sounds like it could be five years old, it doesn't sound worse for wear.
Nocturnal Sunshine is a reminder of an era when Coles was still willing to throw this kind of thing in with deep house. As often happens with big DJs, her musical outlook became narrower with time. Nocturnal Sunshine, then, is the sound of Coles finding her groove again, and it's a funky, broken groove. The extra space in these tracks seems to have ignited a spark in her—just listen to those dubby drum hits on "Take Me There," a small flourish that adds enough personality to overshadow nearly everything she's released since her debut album in 2013.
Part of what makes Nocturnal Sunshine appealing is that Coles writes music at this tempo the same way that she writes house. Largely abandoning the drop structure in favour of a more linear approach, she powers the dubstep framework with a different kind of energy, one that puts the emphasis on subtle changes rather than big climaxes. That comes out best in the irresistibly silky synth lead that percolates through "Footsteps," or the eye-watering bassline on "Intergalactic," which sputters and rumbles steadily throughout the song.
The missteps of her recent past don't escape Coles entirely. Just like on Comfort, she drafts in a couple of guest vocalists who fail to grasp the nuance of her productions. Chelou makes "Believe" sound like drab trip-hop, while Catnapp's vocal on "Down By The River" is so affected that she ruins what could have been a fine garage number. Coles has never been a technically skilled singer herself, but her whisper matches her music to a tee—the way she fits into the busy groove of "It's Alright" is enough to make you wish she wouldn't ask other artists to sing over her music.
Revisiting a sound that isn't terribly fashionable five years later, Nocturnal Sunshine is a hard move to pull off, not least because it includes "Can't Hide The Way I Feel," weighing down an album of ostensibly new material with something that's already been rinsed. But maybe the point is that this sound has aged pretty well—even that tune sounds great when it pops up in the record's second half. It's doubtful Nocturnal Sunshine is meant to signal a career shift. It seems more like a gift for Coles' diehards, the ones who have been following her since the beginning. Whatever it might mean, she's in better form here than she has been in years.
01. Intro (Holding On)
02. Believe feat. Chelou
03. It's Alright
04. Take Me There
07. Down By The River feat. Catnapp
08. Bass Bin
09. Can't Hide The Way I Feel