Saturday, April 6, 2019

Album Review: The Nokturnal North - This Wilderness

As many of you know, The Nokturnal North is one of my very favorite local bands. See my write up of their single back in February to read about how I discovered them.

The indie rock outfit has gone under several changes since their last project, and all for the better. Making several personnel changes, bringing on Brian Shields to produce and manage the band was one of the very best things they could've ever done. The leadership he brought to this album is evident at every turn. They also enlisted Sam Bostrom on bass, and permanently handed the role of drums to Joel Arend, both of whom had been playing with the band for sometime before they officially joined.

The album kicks off with a haunting white noise, which after 20 seconds leads to the startling sound of clanging church bells bridging into the sweet sound of an electric piano with several other underlying textures. I absolutely love the contrast this album starts with.

The track Winter Waves is one of the highlights on the album for me. It is one of the more dynamic, but also emotional tracks on the record. It's a great showing of Joe Norton's songwriting muscles. Winter Waves leads into one of the more uptempo tracks on the record, You Destroy Me, which seems to be one of the fan favorites when I've seen them live, but has never been a huge stand out track for me.

Reflections, the sixth song on the record is an absolute gem on this record. This is one I've heard live, and couldn't wait to hear how the album version turned out, and it doesn't disappoint. Individually, every band member is brilliant. With guitar tone reminiscent of a Phoebe Bridgers track, and bass sounds that remind you of early Interpol, this song had absolutely no ceiling to its potential. The lyrics wouldn't have mattered, but instead we get really emotional words, like the opening line "every star is a ghost; every love is a lullaby" and it gets hit out the park. As if that's not enough, there is a build in the middle of the song that lasts well beyond 60 seconds that is orchestrated beautifully by Joel Arend and Sam Bostrom.

Once we get to track 8, Before You Go, things feel completely different. Its an anthemic punk-ish song that feels really out of place at first. Once I did more digging, I realized it was written by Brian Shields. So, I don't necessarily think this is a bad song, but it's clearly a weak link in an otherwise very strong album. The other track that Norton is not the primary writer, 7:36 P.M., also leaves something to be desired.

Another song that stands out to me is song 11, Today Means Birth, Today Means Death. I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. The song chugs along rhythmically as texture upon texture beautifully floats along top reminiscent of OK Computer era Radiohead. Eventually we are greeted by a voice we do not yet know, which is Cole Grotting. My only criticism of this song is the introduction of his voice. I feel like they could've pulled it off better, by potentially having him back up Waskey on an earlier track, but oh well.

After wandering through a few stripped down songs, we land on a near 13 minute track named Funeral Pyre. I had heard them play it once before at a show in summer of 2018, but the album version is so much better. Introduced by Joe Norton on electric piano, we eventually find Kiera Waskey serenading us drenched in an 80's feeling empty shopping mall reverb that sits SO nicely. I legitimately got goosebumps. The song wanders into a 4 minute chorus, which is where we get to hear Cole Grotting join in once more. The lyric, "It's getting away from me" is a simple one, but the more it's repeated, the more it means to the listener. The heavier it weighs on you. The song ends with a 5 minute outro filled with warbly guitars and a chimey electric piano. It's the ending the song absolutely needs.

Once we get to the title track, the final track, we can feel the journey come to an end. It isn't all that special of a song in comparison to the rest of the album, but caps it perfectly. I love the groove throughout the first verse on this one. It allows everything to sit so nicely on top of it. As the song comes to a close, we hear the church bells once more, and instead of being a startling noise, this time it is a welcomed one, as if we have awoken from a bad dream. A bad dream in the best way.

There is a lot to like about this album. The chemistry between the band, the backbone that is provided by Arend and Bostrom, the consistently impressive vocals from Waskey, but to me two things stand out on this record. The production from Shields, and the songwriting from Norton. The way those two work together provides us an album that is one of the most complete and original projects that has come out of the local music scene in sometime. Norton is one of the best songwriters in local music, and I can't wait to watch him continue to get better. I've worked with artists like Justin Vernon,  Christian Lee Hutson, and Courtney Barnett, and I truly don't think it'll be long until he's in the same ballpark. His songwriting wouldn't be able to come to life the way it does if not for Shields, who understands and casts Norton's vision so well in creation of this album. I think this band is only trending up, and I hope it isn't long until they get the national recognition they deserve.


FOR FANS OF: Arcade Fire, Boygenius, Radiohead

BEST SONG: Reflections

Listen to This Wilderness on Spotify here.

New Single: Piece of the Fire by Kara Laudon

I admit, I'm a little late to the game of this one, but man this song has been blowing me away lately. I'm very excited for what is to come from the talented Kara Laudon.

Listen to Piece of the Fire on Spotify here.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Album Review: In the Blossom of This - LASKA

I recently received a message from the band LASKA about their new record, and as all of the people I know, know I love checking out new music, especially local stuff. So, that being said, I checked out the EP on it's release, the 22nd, and listened to it a few times over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised.

The EP starts off with a mid tempo groove that evolves between many genres. The song Paralysis at times made me feel like I was listening to a Neutral Milk Hotel song, but quickly proved me a wrong, creating a massive stereo glitch at the end that took me by surprise.

The harsh ending brings you right to the front door of the song Unguarded, and we take off again to a melodic guitar line, accented by gentle synth lines, and emotional cuts and drops. The part of this song I enjoyed the most was the snare. The reverb on it is transcendent and provides so much feel to the song. To this point, the only thing on the EP I can criticize is the vocal mixing. The harmonies are gorgeous, but they feel misplaced at time, especially on this track.

Coffee Naps is an oddity on this EP. It feels like it doesn't fit, but it does in a strange way, as it turns to the latter half. Starting with a simplistic piano part, accented by an absolutely perfect fitting bass line. The second chorus of this song might just be my favorite part of the EP, as the vocals sit so well, and everything sounds and feels so tight.

As the EP continues, it continues to be held down and defined by one single genre as the beginning of To Hold You sounds like a Sufjan Stevens track, followed by the closing track Sunset Casual which to me feels like a Cloud Cult / Arcade Fire song.

This is a very dynamic project, and it makes complete sense as an EP. If this was a full length record, I would probably be fairly disappointed by the lack of continuity.

The Morton sisters have such a great chemistry with their band, and not one moment on this project feels disjointed which is an impressive feat. The songs are ambitious, and executed really well, but the production on each just feels all over the place and never lets the band find their particular sound, which to me is a bummer.

Ultimately, this is a beautiful project by LASKA, and I can't wait to hear what they do next.


BEST SONG: Paralysis

FOR FANS OF: Sufjan Stevens, Neutral Milk Hotel, Cloud Cult

Listen on Spotify here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

My chat with Under the Pavilion

On cold February evenings, I like being able to sit by the fireplace in my NE Minneapolis home with a cup of Spyhouse coffee. Thursday night was no different, except I had some wonderful digital guests.

As a new blog, I'm trying to find ideas to separate myself from other music blogs. I decided to try to conduct an interview with a band entirely on Instagram DM, à la @fuckjerry. So, I threw on my favorite Shins record, "Oh, Inverted World", and had a digital chat with Pat, Adam, and Devan of Rochester band, Under the Pavilion.

These guys were exceptionally fun to talk with, as they kept me laughing the whole time. We talked on everything from the experience of recording their first record, to favorite beers (which inspired me to grab a PBR or two).

The part of our conversation I enjoyed the most was our chat about the Rochester music scene. As someone who grew up in Seattle, then moved to Minneapolis at 19, I've always lived in a city with an exceptional music scene. Pat and Adam chimed in on how Rochester really needs a different mindset on how they look at art, especially local music. Under the Pavilion is one of the biggest bands in Rochester right now, and they're only getting bigger, so I'd say they're extremely qualified in this department. 

Under the Pavilion has played all over the state of Minnesota, and the midwest, and praised cities like Duluth, Fargo, and St. Paul for being their some of their favorites to play. We also talked about upcoming projects! They talked about recording an EP just weeks after the release of their debut record, as well as hinting at an upcoming tour, but they didn't want to give up any additional information on that. 

Read my whole talk with Under the Pavilion!

A few things to note:

- Devan Glander is messaging through the band account
- I crossed out a joke made about drunk driving to save everyone a lawsuit, and Devan a lecture from his mother. No one in the band condone's driving drunk, and neither do I.

I really enjoyed my chat with Under the Pavilion. If you haven't checked them out yet, do it! They're great guys with great tunes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#TBT - Misunderstood - Ennen

Last August, I had the pleasure of catching an awesome local show full of local talent. I ended up discovering two new artists (Under the Pavilion, Ennen) that are super rad.

Today in a new blog segment (appropriately titled "Throwback Thursday"), I'll be checking out a release that I completely missed at the time it came out. Today, that is Ennen's "Misunderstood".

Noah Norton, better known by the moniker Ennen has been making his way up the list of Twin Cities hip-hop artists. Now, we, as the Twin Cities aren't known for our hip-hop scene, making it especially difficult to grow and maintain a following here. 

Ennen, who has only been recording music for about 2 years, already has a respectably large catalog of music, with two full length records and a whole bunch of singles, as well as an EP.

This single, Misunderstood is Ennen's best work. With a brilliant mix, brought to you by Russel Munson of Small Circus Studios. Noah, brother of award winning songwriter Joe Norton of The Nokturnal North, shows he can pull his own weight when it comes to songwriting. Lyrically, the song conveys the common struggles of a teenager, but conveys it in such a way that it doesn't feel like it's coming from some inexperienced teenager, rather a veteran songwriter.

From a creative standpoint, the song is extremely unique. Ennen offers his own style of rap, that since I don't listen to a lot of modern rap and my knowledge of rap sub-genre's is incredibly limited, I will call lo-fi trap. The vocal mix is incredibly creative, with an overdrive reminiscent of The Strokes. The instrumental tracks them self play a lot on modern trap with lots of "whoop"s and triplet piano rhythm and hi hats. To me it feels like a cross between Kendrick Lamar and a more pop style of rap. 

I'm really excited to dig more into Ennen's discography, and I recommend you do the same.

Check out Misunderstood on Spotify here.

Album Review: HEADRUSH - MILKK

Ah, bands that get way too much hype just to disappoint. I should start a blog.

The Nashville / Minneapolis indie pop project started by local producer Jack Vondrachek and Nashville singer songwriter Pat Kiloran blew up back in 2017, showing tons of potential. The artists were veterans who'd worked on several successful projects.

"HEADRUSH" starts off with an intriguing, dark, percussive intro leading into a cinematic electric piano. This is what this album does well. That vibey, modulated pop melody. Eventually vocals enter, to deliver the most cliched lines playing on today's pop cultural obsession with all things 90's. The line that sticks out the most to me on this tune, "And I guess sometimes I love the thought of dying" is fascinating. I think it's a good line lyrically, but it's far from creative. Today's indie pop flashes often into emo.

The album carries on with many ups and downs. Songs like "Here in My Head" try to achieve a 1975 style vibe, but honestly fall short and seem tacky in the process. Whereas songs like "Honest", "Mean to You", and "Stupid" are executed in an expert way only this group of musicians can pull off. They do an equally good job of innovating, and pulling out beautiful and familiar sounds.

The album reaches the title track in a weird, unexpected spot. I can't determine if it's too early or too late, but it just doesn't flow right to my ears. I honestly can't determine if I like the song or not. It's too inventive to hate it, but too bipolar to settle on an opinion.

The album's final song, "Annalise" is a good cap to an album that is so up and down. It's a balladic take on a culmination of everything they built up to on the record so far. The melody is so unoriginal, but it's the only thing I dislike about this tune. The slow groove sits really well, and the synthetic sax sounds are the highlight of the record.

"HEADRUSH" has moments of impressive dazzle, but it's ultimately nothing more than a sparkler on the 4th of July. It's pretty and all, and somewhat entertaining. But, at the end of the day, there's going to be much more impressive stuff to enjoy.

disclaimer: this record is still totally worth checking out. Just because I didn't like every part of it, doesn't mean you will have the same opinion.

Grade: C-

Best Song: Stupid

For fans of: The 1975, The Japanese House

Check out HEADRUSH on Spotify here

Monday, February 18, 2019

Album Review: When We Started - Under the Pavilion

The genre of garage pop is fading, and has been fading for the last 15 years. It's pretty rare an artist can achieve success in this genre, and do it well. But, Rochester outfit Under the Pavilion has been quietly bringing it back.

Their long awaited first record, "When We Started" is chock full of catchy pop hooks, bombastic drums, and excellent bass lines. It's been on repeat in my house since it came out earlier this month.

The album opens with a melodic bass line played by Adam Lien until the rest of the band comes in, and then never lets up until the very last note. The song "Wednesday" sets an expectation for the rest of the record; a promise and anticipation that things will eventually resolve. Every song is filled with such precise guitar work by frontman Pat Obert and Devan Glander. The parts become more and more impressive with every song.

There is a lot to be said about the production of the album, too. The sound is clearly heavily influenced by The Strokes, and bands of a similar style. It's rare to hear a band intentionally try and achieve this sound, but even more uncommon for them to achieve it as well as Under the Pavilion does.

As I've already stated, the album progresses in a way most albums don't. It's a rollercoaster that keeps going up and up and up, and you're just waiting for it to reach the top. Well, the very top of the rollercoaster reaches a very impressive height on the closing track "Even". The song structure seems so complex, and is paced by a racing drum groove, and opened up by an absolutely mind blowing guitar solo in the second instrumental, which breaks down into a fantastic progression. This is by far my favorite moment on the record.

The only thing that holds this record back in any way is the lyricism. There are some moments that feel recycled, and cliche. I think it could be beneficial for the band to potentially work with more songwriters in the future. Either way, it doesn't effect the way I feel about this album very much at all. And, there are still plenty of moments where the lyrics catch my attention in a good way.

I had the chance to see this band last year when they played in Saint Paul at the Union Depot, and they're just as good live. I highly recommend checking them out if they play in a city near you. I can't wait to hear what they do next.

Grade: B+

Best Song: Even

For fans of: The Strokes, Ramones

Listen to When We Started on Spotify here.