Nic Hessler

Soft Connections

Longtime Muddy Waters Café frequenters may remember Nic Hessler by his old band/moniker, Catwalk. Back in 2010, the 18-year-old Oxnard native and his rotating cast of Catwalk bandmates were something of Santa Barbara regulars, opening criminally small shows for bands like Future Islands and Dirty Beaches. If memory serves, their songs were great, underproduced nuggets of jangly guitar pop gold, and Hessler, despite his age, was a formidable frontman to watch. There were two singles and a recording deal with label Captured Tracks, and then Catwalk disappeared, due mostly to a freak autoimmune disorder that struck Hessler down when he was 21. Last week, Hessler reemerged under his own name with Soft Connections, the long-awaited and much-reworked debut LP that Catwalk never completed. Like those early Muddy shows, Soft Connections is filled with a swirling mix of surf-lite guitar chords, wistful lyrics, and dreamy guy-girl harmonies, but there’s also a crazy amount of growth here, especially on songs like “Hearts Repeating” and the album’s penultimate title track. In both instances, Hessler’s knack for melody writing shines through; “Repeating” is all thumping tambourines and sunny twang, while “Soft Connections” offers a, well, softer sway — as well as a warm bed of spidery synths and gossamer vocals. Elsewhere, Hessler flexes his newfound muscle on tracks like “Into the Twilight” and “Feel Again,” both of which burst wide open and sound a whole lot like the kind of hopeful Brit pop built to soundtrack good coming-of-age films. In these moments, Soft Connections feels wonderfully youthful and thrillingly expectant, not to mention totally worth the wait.

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