Cian Nugent doesn't know what he wants to be, and that's OK. The Dublin-based guitarist cut his teeth as a 19-year-old pickin' on the acoustic worlds that John Fahey, Jack Rose and Bert Jansch built. But that was five years ago, and since then, Nugent has come at his instrument and his songwriting from all sides, hitting up psychedelic folk, garage pop and cosmic guitar improvisation along the way.
On a short U.S. tour supporting Angel Olsen (herself a Tiny Desk alum), Nugent stopped by the NPR Music offices to play what he's called the "incoherent range of the mess that is my musical career." There's the acoustic "Grass Above My Head," a slow, somber melody that turns into a ragtime jaunt. The song once shared a 7" with an inventive Black Flag cover and was re-recorded with his band The Cosmos for last year's excellent Born With the Caul.
Nugent then switches to a cheap, no-name electric guitar — purchased just days before in a pawn shop — that only seems to stay in tune when a pencil's been in the nut. (Oh, yes, there's a story about said pencil.) It gives "Hire Purchase" the just-barely-off quality required for the raunchy, basement-bar choogle going down — like maybe J.J. Cale is still drunk from yesterday's gig and the only cure is more pencil!
And, in defiance of all daylight, Nugent closes with "Nightlife," which, at the time of the Tiny Desk filming, was still untitled. True to its title, it's the sad-sack set closer sure to be played at last call — heads on the bar, mops out on a beer-soaked floor, with Nugent singing about regret and "wasted time."
- "Grass Above My Head"
- "Hire Purchase"
Producers: Denise DeBelius, Lars Gotrich; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Olivia Merrion; photo by Jim Tuttle/NPR