Menace lurks around every corner in Nobody’s Watching, the exquisite and cinematic sophomore album from Los Angeles songwriter Dre Babinski’s project Steady Holiday. What began as a concept record about a pair of crooks developed to become a masterful study on greed and the evils of modern living. The album adheres to the philosophical notion, attributed to Mark Twain, that history “doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” and some of its most striking observations hint that our current societal ills aren’t exactly new ones.
Much of the album’s success can be traced to Babinski’s decision to pair her bleak lyrics with sumptuous and imaginative music: the back-lounge keys in opening track “Flying Colors” blur as if seen through a rainy window; the dynamic string arrangements in lead single “Mothers” bring to mind Radiohead’s lurching (and rejected) theme song for the James Bond film Spectre; and “Love and Pressure” employs a similar brand of the low-key funk made popular by Canadian crooner Rhye. Throughout Nobody’s Watching, Babinski uses her weightless voice as a foil, drawing sweet melodies in the air as if with a fine-tipped pen, even as she prepares to “sharpen my blade” against an enemy and watches warily as soldiers glare from behind a barricade.
It’s not until the album’s skeletal closing track, “Desperate Times,” that she plays her hand: the only path forward is through empathy with one’s adversaries. “I would spy, I would preach / I would lie through my teeth,” she coos, ceding that when the going gets rough, people will do nearly anything to save their own skin. “Humankind is in a desperate time,” she states later; it’s a common refrain in 2018, but buried in the surreal world of Nobody’s Watching, it enables us to consider our shared challenges with fresh eyes.