ALBUM REVIEW : NORTHERN AMERICAN - MODERN PHENOMENA

8/10

ALBUM REVIEW : NORTHERN AMERICAN - MODERN PHENOMENA

Hailing from the sun filled city of LA, the quartet Northern American releases their first full length album on May 19th. “Modern Phenomena” is the follow up to their self released EP  “Happiness Hangover”. Theirs is a sophisticated alternative pop sound, with a veneer of shiny vibrant pop that attracts notice while deeper introspection exists underneath. Their sound has been compared to The National and Local Natives.

Northern American was formed by high school friends Nate Paul and Shane Alch who would later recruit Augusto Vega and Bruno Calenda to complete the band. Nate Paul provides the vocals and guitar, Shane Alch works the keyboards and synths, Augusto Vega handles bass duties and Bruno Calenda is the man behind the drums. When questioned about how they selected their band’s name, they explained that they liked it because it could mean anything. The idea was that the name could stay the same while the music could always morph and change. Their first live outing was providing a soundtrack to a local fashion show, but that isn’t the most unusual thing they have done to promote the band. The winner in that contest is when they rubber banded a $20 bill to their demo and placed it in Moby’s mailbox. Alas they never heard anything back, silly Moby.

After the release of their EP “Happiness Hangover” they caught the attention of Heist or Hit Records out of the UK and were signed to a recording contract. The band recorded “Modern Phenomena” at Santa Monica’s Red Rockets Glare Studio with producer Raymond Richards of Local Natives fame. It was mastered by Mark Chalecki (Avi Buffalo/ Amy Ray). Northern American introduced their new album at the SXSW Music Conference this spring. This summer they will be following up the new release with a tour of America, the UK and European dates.

Northern American offers on “Modern Phenomena” an original blend of chiming vibrant guitar sounds, alternative chill wave and an unmistakable California cool. At times it sounds like Simple Mind’s Charlie Burchill joined the Verve and they all moved to LA and I am in no way saying that is a bad thing. The first track “Feels like Forever” is case in point with its smooth urban vibrancy. There is also this dash of Beck that makes it oh so enticing. The smooth sound is a facade over the underlying ennui and indecision expressed in the lyrics, “Sometimes there is no tomorrow, no yesterday.”

“So Natural” is a dreamy mid tempo contemplation on our interaction with nature in our increasingly artificial world. There is something comforting in the song’s late 90’s altie pop sound. Paul’s vocals are a perfect fit with the shimmering guitar, spot on synth and apt rhythm section. The title song “Modern Phenomena” is a rocker where you can hear The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” walking thought the instrumentation. The subject matter examines our modern condition and the isolation within even our closest relationships. “Pull me off the grid because I don’t want to know everything about you.

“Somewhere Out There” is a synth influenced track where the band channels all the goodness of bands like New Order, Erasure and Electronic to great effect. The vocals are noteworthy for their haunted ethereal sound. “Blue” in contrast is a beautiful ballad making for a perfect compliment to a blissed out day, while still being quite introspective, “We’re just smoke in the wind”…”Where do we go from here?” The song could have been ruined by too much or too little emotion but is thankfully performed with a deft touch.

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“Days Between” takes the afore mentioned Simple Mind’s shimmering guitars and adds the band’s own special magic to produce an enticing song. The song showcases Nate’s vocal skills and begs for repeated listens. The band continues to hit the sweet spot with “You Remind Me” and “Nothing Personal” both songs display excellent song structure while showing off the band’s musical skills and lyric writing prowess. Displaying yet another dimension of the band’s oeuvre, “Strange Behavior” contains soaring vocals and a galloping rhythm. The track conveys all the energy and emotion involved in trying to figure out what you want from life and relationships while taking into account all the inherent contradictions that exist.

The final song on the release and the first single off the album, “Elysian” saves the best for last. It is a beautiful swirling track. The song enthuses about the heaven of happy moments in life and relationships. The song is a perfect accompaniment to the spring and summer with its good time feelings.

Northern American shows a lot of promise with their first full length album. The young band members find themselves at the beginning of what I hope will be a long career as they contemplating the future for themselves and their listeners. They have an amazing knack for blending some of the best in more recent Alternative music with their own vision. The album is a snapshot of where the band is now in their development as performers and it will be exciting to see what they come up with next. If “Modern Phenomena” is any indicator it will be a captivating creation.

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