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Album Review: Northern American – Modern Phenomena

 
By on Friday, 22nd May 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Northern American Modern Phenomena coverIs there any city in the world that has shaped the content of popular culture more than Los Angeles? Sure, New York is more photogenic, London is cooler (in every sense), and Paris more romantic, but there’s something about the sprawling, palm-tree ambience of LA, where everywhere is 45 minutes by car away from everywhere else, that has made it the epicentre of the world’s film industry. Therefore how LA thinks is crucial to how we see the world – through the big screen at least.

It simply wouldn’t be possible for the city’s music scene to be as influential and lucrative as its films, but they’ve had a good go. From the country-rock days of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Eagles, through the ‘80s and ‘90s hard rock and hair metal phase, to today’s diverse offerings, whose alumni include Best Coast and Local Natives, there’s certainly a lot to commend LA’s music scene. There can be no doubt about the continent from which Northern American spring; we can add their name to the long list of LA hopefuls too.

Not that you’d really infer their city of origin from throwing on their début collection, ‘Modern Phenomena’. The first bars of opener ‘Feel Like Whatever’, with its baggyesque drumming, washy synths and trebly, languidly optimistic vocal, could have easily been recorded in Manchester any time between, say, 1992 and 2008. This most certainly is not the L.A. of sleaze and rock ‘n’ roll excess as screamingly documented by Axl Rose and Nikki Sixx. Where Northern American are concerned, Los Angeles sounds like dusty boulevards, tumbleweed, and thousand-yard-stares over the firmament into the mountains and deserts beyond. Guitars are used as watercolour backdrops rather than aggressively riffing their way into one’s skull.

As the instrumentation subtly changes throughout the set, from shimmering electric pianos to eclectic percussion, the one constant is Augusto Vega’s minimalist yet assertive bass playing. He manages to achieve the subtle trick of being solid yet melodic, creating a foundation yet pushing the music forward with admirable persistence, at times having the confidence to drop out completely for a few bars, making the impact of his reappearance all the more intense. Well done that man.

‘So Natural’ is the archetypal chilled-out ballad, complete with hazy vocal and a gently psychedelic instrumental break. The title track comes in at under 3 minutes despite its sweeping ambition: keening strings reinforce the main guitar riff, while the none-more-chilled voice can just about get it together to give a gently chiding commentary on the perils of conducting one’s life through the vector of silicon-based devices. Two minutes in there’s a big crescendo, when the band might even be breaking a sweat, but don’t worry, it’s not long before they can have a nice sit down.

As you might be guessing, if there’s one criticism to be levelled at this collection is that it’s almost too relaxed: certainly there’s nothing here that’s challenging or dangerous in a conventional sense, or that might give a more balanced documentary of the dubious virtues of their home town. Nevertheless, the side they have chosen to reflect, the hanging-out-by-the-pool-with-a-piña-Colada one, is amply and ably discharged here. For those of us lucky to have the opportunity to party in such style, there’s little more of an appropriate soundtrack than ‘Modern Phenomena’.

7/10

Northern American’s debut LP ‘Modern Phenomena’ is due for release on the 1st of June via Heist or Hit Records.  Previous TGTF coverage of Northern American is right this way.

 

Single Review: Northern American – Wander

 
By on Thursday, 30th January 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

Los Feliz four-piece, synth pop band Northern American have managed to carve a unique niche in the American West Coast sound, somewhere between the hazy dream pop of bands like Mazzy Star or Local Natives and the frenetic energy of lo-fi garage bands like Deap Vally or FIDLAR. Their new single, ‘Wander’, was released last week on Heist or Hit Records. ‘Wander’ and its B-side ‘Record Forever’ both also feature on Northern American’s EP release ‘Happiness Hungover’.

‘Wander’ is at the same time mellow and upbeat, with ambient electronic sounds, shimmering keyboards and guitars over a resonant pulsing bass and lightly skipping drum rhythm. Lead singer and guitarist Nate Paul’s vocal tone is smoothly languid from the track’s opening lyrics, “Wander where you’ll go / I’ve been here before / We’ve waited for you / It’s all we ever do” through to the lilting closing lines, “dream all day / dance all night / dream all day / wander far away.” In the interim, the song slowly evolves into a rather surprising drum solo in the bridge before easing its way back to the familiar bass pulse and guitar riff. The song definitely wanders, but the blocked chord texture of the keyboard rhythm holds it together in the end.

The single’s B-side, ‘Record Forever’ is also loungey and laid-back, both hazy in texture and deeply reverberant. Paul’s velvety vocal tone shifts into an equally smooth high register during the rhythmically lurching chorus, “you are the record that spins inside of me / my heart / forever.” While perhaps less sophisticated than ‘Wander’, ‘Record Forever’ is certainly the catchier of the two tracks, as its uneven rhythmic pattern echoes both in the head and on the hips.

If the subject matter of ‘Wander’ and ‘Record Forever’ is a bit superficial, that naïve quality can be attributed to Northern American’s youthfully organic nature and collaborative songwriting technique. The band’s Facebook page quotes Paul: “We’re always changing. Our music is really free. We try to be as loose with it as possible; it’s the best version of all of us.” Northern American are currently in the studio working on their first full album, anticipated for release this summer.

7/10

‘Wander’, the latest single from Northern American, is available now on Heist or Hit Records. Both tracks are available to stream below.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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