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.