When I first stepped into this job in 2008, Kyle Nicolaides was easily the youngest musician on my radar. But even as a high schooler, Nicolaides was a force to be reckoned with. At 17, he was a waifish, snarl-voiced rocker, and his bands — from The Martyrs all the way through to Siren Son — were considered some of Santa Barbara’s most promising up-and-coming acts on the circuit. The sounds oscillated between ultra-bluesy, punk, and power-chord-pummeling garage rock, but Nicolaides’s voice remained the constant, a pained lyricist who could carry a song with a howl or a whisper.
But come the end of high school, it was time to fly the coop for Nicolaides, who headed south to attend USC and then ditched the classroom for the Los Angeles music scene not long thereafter. New bandmates followed in the form of bassist Tony Cupito and drummer Daniel Curcio, and before long Beware of Darkness was born. A handful of gigs and some not-so-calculated networking sessions later, the trio signed with L.A.’s Bright Antenna Records and got to work on what would become its debut.
This Tuesday, May 7, Beware of Darkness unleashes Orthodox, a densely packed, no-holds-barred 12-song collection that finds Nicolaides reaching deep, laying it all out, and coming away with the most lyrically honest, affecting music he’s made yet. Thematically speaking, Orthodox draws from places both well-worn and carefully tread; it’s sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll but with a bittersweet twist. The record’s lead single, “Howl,” is a rip-roaring guitar rocker that finds Nicolaides snarling the hook, “Baby girl, I want to hear you howl.” It’s followed shortly by “Sweet Girl,” a driving number that immediately calls to mind the catchiness of Jet’s 2003 garage pop opus, Get Born. (Orthodo‘x producer Dave Sardy also manned the controls for Born.) The tracks all speak to Nicolaides’s Led Zeppelin–fueled youth, and each is anchored by furiously insistent guitars, soulful pianos, and yelping deliveries.
Still, it’s the quietly brooding mid-album cut “All Who Remain” that serves as Orthodox’s biggest triumph. Alongside a barely plucked guitar and loping drum line, Nicolaides croons lines like “When you leave this life, the world will be a darker place for all who remain,” his voice on the brink of cracking with each pass. It’s heartbreaking without being earnest, and it’s easily the best song Nicolaides has ever written.
“It’s about losing your favorite person on the planet,” Nicolaides said, hedging, “and it’s been striking a chord everywhere we play it.”
In the coming months, Beware of Darkness hits the road hard in support of Orthodox. Following the current leg, the band heads home for a string of West Coast dates as part of the Vans Warped Tour. After that, it’s off to Europe to support the Smashing Pumpkins, a milestone that’s not lost on Nicolaides.
“I know that [Billy Corgan] handpicked us for this tour,” he explained, “and that it was based on merit, not on having the same management or agents. I’m really thankful for that. And I’m so excited for all the countries and places we get to see and the venues and audiences we get to play for and to watch the Pumpkins every night.”
For a twentysomething songwriter from Santa Barbara, the implications are huge. For Nicolaides, it all points toward the bigger picture and toward carving a career out of his passion. And if Orthodox is the starting point, well, I can only imagine what’s next.
“I wanted to make an album in the vein of [Fiona Apple’s] Extraordinary Machine or [George Harrison’s] All Things Must Pass, where there are details you miss and you have to keep coming back to it,” he said. “Someone told me it was a headphone record, and I think that’s good. I just think it’s a record.”