Justin Nozuka – then, now & again

20 May 2021 / by Patch Fraser
Justin Nozuka looking downwards in a dimly lit room.
Album reviews
Justin Nozuka then, now & again
Released: April 9, 2021
Label: Post 1988 / Black Box
R&B / Soul
Daniel Caesar / Lianne La Havas / Solange
Break Me, Rains Its Pours, No One But You

then, now & again offers serious chill and contemplation from Canadian-American singer-songwriter Justin Nozuka. Now under his own label and partnered with local indie Black Box, Nozuka flexes his soulful, downtempo side. Known for a mix of guitar-based pop, folk and alternative R&B over the past 14 years, his new EP lulls the listener into an intimate vibe while pondering the complexities of romance.

The first of the five songs is the most seductive: syrupy melodic hooks, catchy phrasing, a wash of strings, and oohing in the background. With a wonderfully textured arrangement, ‘Break Me’ has a highly evocative, organic sound and the lyricism of a cumbersome, unsated love affair. Nozuka delivers warm, soaring vocals with moments of strained and emotive scratchiness. Overall, it’s a deeply soulful song that stands up to the classics in this genre.

Miami’, a more stripped down piece, gradually builds in the velvety textures that are a mainstay of the EP. Despite the reputation of the titular city, this song is filled with aching colours. Ironically, the next song, ‘Rains It Pours’, brings in some plucky, sunny tones and gently revels in the idea of lingering indoors to make up with a lover. The stacking of vocal tracks and the soft, wonky effects make for an especially dreamy number. 

summer night o8’, the second single, is sparse lyrically and compositionally. It’s the leanest and most mood-centred of the pieces, alluding to a love that has been reciprocated, at least for another night.

No One But You’ was the lead single, released in the middle of last fall, with British artist Mahalia as his singing partner. It’s the most formulaic and pop-oriented of the collection, and ends things on a lighter, love-affirming note. It’s well-crafted and beautifully sung, but doesn’t add anything special to the clichés of a ballad duet. Tender flashes of flute, keys and metallophones, round out the classic 1970s palette that is explored with impressive dexterity and subtlety throughout the EP.

then, now & again should please long-time Nozuka fans who grew up with him and can likely resonate with the more mature sensibilities. There’s a deep sense of longing and nostalgia for what was or could have been in relationships. then, now & again demonstrates a fidelity to the poetic honesty and richness of sound production that was pioneered a half-century ago. Its strengths are also its weaknesses: this is a well-worn path and it may be hard for these songs to stick out in the long term. That said, the album is a genuine and affecting work overall, showcasing Nozuka’s ability to meld together lyricism, mood, texture and expansive toplines. It is well worth a listen, either to process a complicated relationship or simply to cozy up while stuck indoors.