By Mitch Tousley
Nicole Canaan is an emerging alternative pop artist located in Salt Lake City. Canaan formed an early relationship with and love for music. Writing since the age of 13, it wasn’t until 2020 when they teamed up with old friend and new producer Isaac Elmont to start officially recording their first EP Wherever, which was released October of that year.
Wherever got the attention of Tom Petersen and Brady Flores who were just starting their local label UPHERE! Records. They reached out shortly after the EP came out and Canaan has been releasing with them ever since, including their newest project, My Own Two Hands.
My Own Two Hands is an excellent piece of art that is the clear result of years of meticulous work. Nicole Canaan has fine-tuned their sound and lyrical style to a degree that most artists of their age could only wish to ever achieve. Their songwriting is sharp, arrangements lush, and performances are nothing short of memorable.
This project is an emotional ride for the listener, however. In the best way possible, each track is a cathartic musical experience. Every chord change is gut-wrenching, the drums sound like the song is choking-up trying to find the courage to say what needs to be said, and every crescendo in Nicole’s singing sounds like the pit in your stomach pleading for release. The emotional intensity of this project dares any listener to try listening without feeling anything, let alone something profound. Sad as many of the songs may be, they do provide a kind of empathetic comfort for anyone who has felt anything of what Nicole is singing about.
I can quite honestly say that every song on My Own Two Hands is worthy of praise, but the clear standout of the tracklist to me is the titular track. The song opens with vocal harmonies drenched in reverb, bringing to mind images of an old, worn-down cathedral – but you won’t find God in the traditional, organized religious sense. Rather, Nicole’s cathedral brings you solace in the way only music can, emphasizing the tension of one’s life while simultaneously easing it. Nicole sings of a dream in which they’re happily married, only to awake to be reminded that this life of mutual love is merely a dream. They lament their loved ones: “Why do they love me?” They yearn for a lover of the past and begin building a home in this fantasy world in which love isn’t unrequited. Begging for something to cling onto, Canaan concludes the song with the line, “I want to believe in anything.” Just as they awoke from sleep to find their happy life to be a fantasy, the cathedral they invited us into with the opening vocals also crumbles in an instant. When I first listened to this, I felt nearly inconsolable. Canaan had written a perfect song, and in doing so had me experience something close to my full spectrum of emotion.
What advice could possibly be given to an artist like Nicole Canaan? This project is a home run and truly one of my favorite releases from the past several years. If I had the honor to work with them, I may suggest branching out instrumentally. I think their voice and songwriting would sound immaculate over traditional orchestral instruments like flutes, oboes, violins, french horns – and an entire orchestra, frankly.
In public and in private, I have sometimes complained that the Utah music scene lacks some of the originality and uniqueness of other local music scenes across the country. However, My Own Two Hands is one of the projects that makes me feel foolish for ever having such a complaint. Nicole is a high caliber artist and they lift up the rest of the Utah scene by their presence alone.
Make sure to follow Nicole Canaan on Instagram. You can listen to “My Own Two Hands” below!