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Album Review: Scott Helman’s “Nonsuch Park (sa)”

Scott Helman's sophomore album plays with genre while touching on heavy topics

Toronto-born singer-songwriter Scott Helman released his second studio album Nonsuch Park (sa) on September 4th, and at a perfect time for anyone struggling through the pandemic.

The album kicks off with the track “(nonsuchpark)”, a gentle fade-in with acoustic instruments and some natural bird sounds. I’m not usually a fan of interludes, but this one felt right. It’s the perfect introduction to the album’s overall theme: this album is much more personal and vulnerable than Helman’s other music, but also very hopeful.

“Wait No More” was one of the singles released to promote the album, and it encompasses the positive feeling of Nonsuch Park (sa). It’s poppy, upbeat, and fun, but still has relatable lyrics about being present with the important people in your life.

“Lois” is the only song on the album Helman didn’t write, and it wouldn’t have even made the cut if he didn’t personally love it so much. It features a low-key chorus, great beat, and driving bass line. The finger snaps replacing typical drums ground the song, but combined with the vocals and synth, the song soars until it feels almost ethereal.

“Good Problems” tackles serious topics like divorce and mistrust in relationships, and Helman pulls on his personal experience with his parents’ divorce. The chorus turns it around though, with its positive and hopeful lyrics and sweeping instrumentals.

“EVERGREEN” can be summed up in one phrase: climate change, but romantic. Helman has been vocal about climate change for years, and this song is both planted in reality and rose-colored. The chorus’ lyrics and higher-pitched vocals shift the song’s focus to the future and how we can make it better for everyone.

“(california)” is another interlude, a lovely, almost spiritual ballad written about Helman and his plan to move with his girlfriend to California before the pandemic hit. It’s a stark transition to the next song, “Afraid of America” which was heavily inspired by David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” and features my favourite harmonies on the album, as well as another talented Canadian artist, Alessia Cara.

“Everything Sucks” was the first single released before the album. It’s an upbeat pop ballad about still being in love with someone you’ve broken up with, with Helman again pulling on personal experiences.  

“True Crime” is reminiscent of Helman’s previous songs such as “PDA” (2017) or “Bungalow” (2014). The guitar and percussion is more acoustic than the other songs on the album, but it features bold vocals and another lyrically vulnerable chorus.

“(meetagain)” is the final interlude, bringing back the acoustic, spiritual-sounding piano, and transitioning directly into the final song of the album, “Papa.” The violin, cello, gentle tempo, and lyrics on “Papa” get me every time. Helman wrote it about his late grandfather, reflecting on the good times they shared while also fearing losing him when Helman himself still has so much life ahead of him. Included is the final voicemail from his grandfather, and it’s guarantee to make you bawl your eyes out.

Nonsuch Park (sa) is exactly the kind of musical experience we need right now — lyrics about difficult topics, expressed in a vulnerable, deeply personal way. Helman tells his stories matter-of-factly, but always seems to turn it around and hope for the future.

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