It’s too bad Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks already called their album Sparkle Hard earlier this year, because that simple little phrase would work well as the name of Michael Rault’s sophomore effort.
Not so much thematically, that is, but sonically. The record—actually titled It’s A New Day Tonight—glimmers like a taut pop-rock song pouring from radio speakers in the ‘70s. Warm tones, breezy melodies and the sugary strum of guitar strings crackle under crisp production. It’s a timeless sound.
A lot of credit for that surely goes to Wayne Gordon, producer of It’s A New Day Tonight and head engineer at Daptone Records’ Brooklyn recording studio. Rault’s 2015 debut, Living Daylight, had its share of hooks, but also more glam-rock swagger. Gordon, on the other hand, steers the Canadian singer-songwriter’s classic rock sound into a tighter, more efficient space, where every part has a purpose. It’s A New Day Tonight is out on Daptone’s new rock-focused subsidiary, Wick Records, but given the mothership’s well-established wheelhouse, it’s no surprise that the album snaps and bounces and grooves like an old soul record.
Despite its sparkling sound, however, It’s A New Day Tonight is threaded with references to darkness, dreams, sleep and so on. In fact, the first words uttered on the album are “I don’t mind if the sun don’t shine,” kicking off “I’ll Be There,” a confident rocker with a psychedelic chorus and a squirrelly guitar solo. As if to hammer home the point, Rault starts off track two, “New Day Tonight,” with the line “Start to feel alright just after midnight, with you.”
So the guy is nocturnal, or at least he is drawn to the nightime in an effort to escape the frustrations of the day. But he expertly pairs his predilections for the after-hours with sunny melodies and arrangements. The harmonies in “Sleep With Me” are soft like pillowy clouds, and a string section swoops in on the bridge to give the song a stately quality. “Dream Song” is aptly named, with its relaxed pace, ringing acoustic guitar and spectral backing vocals. And “Out of the Light” is a highlight, thanks to its spirited piano backbone, some tastefully lysergic guitar parts and Rault’s strong falsetto.
Elsewhere, “Oh Clever Boy” is somehow both shaggy and sharp-cornered at the same time; it sounds descended from Paul McCartney’s Ram. “Pyramid Scheme,” on the other hand, is smooth and assured and more Band on the Run. There are plenty of ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones here, but the biggies are The Beatles, The Kinks and Big Star. Those are big footsteps to trace, yes, but Rault is certainly capable, and It’s A New Day Tonight offers hook after hook after hook draped in a credible vintage sheen by folks that understand vintage sheen. As long as you’re not allergic to classic pop-rock earworms, it’s a solid record that deserves repeated spins.