Abby Nissenbaum’s Unapologetic E.P., Unreliable Narrator

Abby Nissenbaum’s latest E.P., Unreliable Narrator, is the perfect blend of indie rock and indie pop.

Arts Music Rosie Accola

This article was published on February 7th, 2023

Nashville is home to a lively and storied queer music scene, and LGBT indie rocker Abby Nissenbaum is the latest artist to enter the pantheon of the Nashville indie scene. A lifelong musician, Nissenbaum initially pursued a career in social psychology and data analytics before rediscovering her passion for music during her time as a graduate student at the University of Memphis. 

Now, Nissenbaum’s ready to make her mark on the Indie music scene with her latest E.P., Unreliable Narrator, out 2/24.

The six-track E.P. is a deft exploration of vulnerability pairing Nissenbaum’s confessional, succinct lyricism with nuanced production that expertly merges the distinct sounds of indie rock and indie pop. Throughout the recording process, Nissenbaum split her time between Los Angeles, and Nashville, where she recorded at the renowned Sound Emporium Studios. Production credits for Unreliable Narrator are split between  Riley Geare (Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Caroline Rose) and Matt Qualls (Blvck Hippie, Speck Joliet).

The first track, and lead single, “Kerri” kicks off with scintillating synth production before Nissenbaum launches into the chorus backed by driving guitars and drums. (The guitar tone is excellent, possessing the perfect indie crunch.) In the chorus, Nissenbaum laments, “She builds things/ I break them./ She’s Chloe./I’m Warren.”

The guitars on the second track, “Glass Half Full” possess a similar shimmer, before grounding the listener in Nashville with lyrics like, “I’m sure you’re with that woman/ at some crowded midtown show.”

Standout tracks include “Shelly Johnson,” which is backed by riotous drums and soaring electric guitars, but Nissenbaum’s voice is able to remain grounded even with the lively instrumentation, gliding along with ease as she sings, “I thought that was love at 22.” It’s the sort of song that would feel right at home in the soundtrack for a queer rom-com. 

Meanwhile, the synths on “Airbnb” provide a lush musical backdrop for a meditation on Nissenbaum’s inner world where she’s, “walking through the shrapnel of mistakes.” The layering of her harmonies on this track is downright ethereal.

Nissenbaum opened up about her writing process for this E.P. in the accompanying press packet stating, “Unreliable Narrator is an exploration of how external situations and inner states or feelings interact to form our internal narratives. I began writing this album in 2019 while leaving my Social Psychology Ph.D. program and started reflecting on the ways that external negative situations and others’ hurtful messages had been heavily souring my own self-talk and self-perception. I had read a research paper where depression and anxiety were characterized as ‘unreliable narration’ of one’s own life, and [I] thought it perfectly encapsulated what I was feeling at the time. Especially as an LGBTQ+ artist, I wanted the album to touch on different aspects of my life where I had ruminated on and internalized mistreatment, from homophobia to toxic romantic relationships.”

Some of the more thoughtful tracks on the E.P. also provide Nissenbaum with the opportunity to explore not only her songwriting chops but the breathtaking range of her vocal register.

A classically trained Soprano and musical theater performer, Nissenbaum is an astounding vocalist, able to vacillate between soaring high notes and alto tones with ease. The full range of her voice is showcased in “Funeral Processional” where backed on trombone by Stranger Things music producer Christopher Bill, her voice dips deep into dulcet alto tones. The track is also peppered with bongos which, combined with Nissenbaum’s naturally emotive storytelling, calls to mind the early work of Tegan and Sara. Meanwhile, the loping guitar of “Checkerboard Flies” provides a dreamy backdrop that allows Nissenbaum’s voice to soar to the rafters with ease. The production on this track is reminiscent of the mid-90s pop-rock confessional greats like Sheryl Crow or Shawn Colvin, all while allowing Nissenbaum to display her vocal prowess at full force. Nissenbaum elaborated on her decision to make sure that her vocals take center stage stating, “Instrumentally and genre-wise, the EP purposely sounds somewhat disjointed, with the one common denominator being my voice.”

This deliberate melange of genres provides an energizing listening experience, perfect for fans of thought-provoking indie-pop artists like H.E.R. or The Aces. Overall, Nissenbaum hopes that Unreliable Narrator will provide listeners with ample space for their own healing and reflection. Nissenbaum explained, “I hope that listeners, especially other queer folks, can find solace in these songs and the fact that not every bad thing we believe about ourselves is the truth.”

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