Nervous at Night

nervous at night

At 22, Pasadena songwriter Charlie Hickey sits astride the chain-link fence between youth and adulthood. His debut EP, Count the Stairs—released on Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory imprint—positioned him as the next existential soft-rock wunderkind in the Bridgers family tree, not far from regular collaborators Christian Lee Hutson and Harrison Whitford. But Hickey forgoes their gritty melancholy: Nervous at Night, his debut full-length, lingers in the occasionally too-twee space between bedroom and pop as he navigates the travails of growing up.

“No one here has to pay their rent/Well, it’s not like I do,” Hickey quipped on last year’s dancey single “Ten Feet Tall.” On Nervous at Night, he saves the social satire for the soulful, quasi-R&B of “Springbreaker” (“Springbreaker, you said you ended up at the chateau/What does that mean?/As if that could be an accident”) but mostly channels his wit into affection, penning couplets fit for ironist valentines. On “Missing Years,” Hickey loses his fake ID—and metonymically his identity—but when he’s with his love interest, he sings, he’s “not missing.” Producer Marshall Vore, another Bridgers associate, submerges these acoustic confessionals in watery electronics, stacking production to simulate a boombox at the bottom of a pool. Blue and lurid, a sense of murky, digitized isolation oozes from the vocoder and staticky percussion. The artificial 8-track textures scrub away the edge of emo gloom from Hickey’s earlier music, giving “Missing Years” the waltzy sparkle of Jimmy Eat World’s “Hear You Me.”

On tracks that function as paroxysms of guilt, self-loathing, or simple insecurity, Hickey sings with refreshing open-heartedness. His lyrics can read like drunk texts—“Couldn’t bring myself to get that cracked screen fixed/So when you sent me your love, I only got half of it,” he sings on the vulnerable piano ballad “Choir Song (I Feel Dumb)”—but their half-treacle, half-truth yields the unfiltered immediacy and accidental wisdom of AIM away statuses. Rich with references to cultural ephemera—Love Island, Call of Duty, Zipcar—the record’s zeitgeisty Gen Z nostalgia enhances more than just its scene-setting. On opener “Dandelions,” Hickey recalls seeing 12 Rules for Life in a bookstore and mourns the halcyon, dandelion-wishing days before he knew the darkness of the world or Jordan Peterson’s viral tirades. The song’s dissociative synths and omniscient future tense (the “Canadian doctor… would overdose on Klonopin, next year this time”) deftly depict a person trapped between yearning and anticipation.

The title track is the life of the party, showing up late but bringing the booze. With glittery guitars and a pre-chorus that recalls the antsy zeal of Boys Like Girls, Hickey scores an uptempo pop hit with a windows-down breathless refrain. “I don’t drive, I don’t have a car/I’ll still meet you wherever you are,” he sings, and it feels like we’re already off and running. The fantasy falters when Hickey reaches for trite paradoxes—worrying his silence was loud, fearing arriving more than flying—or loses specificity to fill the meter. But he vies to redeem himself by literalizing clichés, as in “Missing Years,” where his crush crashes into his life, totaling their car.

charlie hickey nervous at night