The Seahorse stage has played home to many notable names, including Haviah Mighty, The Beaches, Dear Rouge, and now Nicole Ariana. That’s not to say Ariana hasn’t graced this stage in the past, as she opened for SonReal back in 2016. Since then, Ariana dropped her EP Strand in 2017 and has been honing her songwriting craft by penning and singing on the 2020 release from Russ entitled Shake the Snow Globe. The Halifax-based singer-songwriter also wrote a couple of songs for Inna (a Romanian pop star). The proof that hard work pays off, is when Drake’s OVO Radio took notice and featured 3 of Ariana’s songs on their platform.
That hard work paved the way to Nicole Ariana’s debut full-length album Crybaby, which dropped at midnight last Thursday, and the evening after the album dropped, a cavalcade of the who’s who in the Halifax music scene packed the Seahorse Tavern to celebrate the album’s release. Not only did Ariana have two up-and-coming acts in Shani22 and Yohvn Blvck kick off the proceedings, but she also assembled an all-star band featuring Jordan Murphy, Seamus Erskine, Siobhan Martin (¾ of the local act The Brood) and Keith Dorion (bassist extraordinaire) to join her on stage.
Crybaby is an album that was forged through tears, tumult and heartache, but these songs have a triumphant ferocity about them. With “Shameless” and “Costs a Lot” you can hear the tale of being in a relationship with a disinterested partner and the emotional toll that comes along with that emptiness and longing. Having spent a great deal of time with Crybaby and seeing these tracks performed live, affords an interesting perspective on the title track. On the album, the song has this passive-aggressive snarl about it, all the while tautly simmering on a thick sultry bassline. Seeing it live, the track had a triumphant fuck-you vibe about it as if looking back over a failed relationship, and it would be interesting to hear it ramped up into a heated rock n roll banger.
On “Master of Denial” you hear those final attempts to salvage an irreparable relationship, knowing full well that your heart is overriding your brain. Then you begin to see the aftermath on “Bitter”, when you see that person out with someone else, and that battle that is waged between emotion and logic. That arc is continued in “Blame The Sea” where you start to see reason take over, and the heart can begin to heal, while still stuck trying to solve an insolvable puzzle. “Bad 4 Me” is pretty self-explanatory, in that moment of weakness you find yourself looking for the familiar, all the while knowing how hollow and fleeting the moment is, and how detrimental it will be. We finally hear some closure on “Outside”, with the realization that those romantic ties have finally loosened, and that longing has finally dissipated, and then the triumphant (if still somewhat melancholy) “Cry No More” which wipes away the tears and closes the book on this relationship.
The way in which Ariana has crafted these songs is remarkable, as there is a definite maturity and poise behind the craft. Clearly, there is an arc over these 8 songs tying them together, but each one is polished and ready for regular airplay. Nicole’s brand of R&B-infused pop is easy n the ears, and these songs at their surface are pure aural confectionary, but peel back that wrapper and you will hear the heart contained within every single track. It is easily one of the best-sounding records to be released this year.
Bringing it back to last week inside the Seahorse, where the release of Crybaby was being celebrated with what was supposed to appear to be a pair of weepy Seahorses, instead, it felt like this was more of an apt baby shower with the blue balloons strewn about the room (which occasionally popped loudly, or made their way towards the stage). Ariana performed the entire album live, and the songs translated perfectly to the live environment and even exceeded their studio-recorded counterparts. It’s still fairly perplexing that this is only the debut full-length from the Halifax singer-songwriter, but hopefully the album cycle for the sophomore release is released well before that 6-year mark. It was a fantastic night of music in the Seahorse, where Nicole Ariana cemented her place among the talented pantheon of acts who have graced that very stage.