Chris North, who previously fronted folksters The Points North, has a new dream pop project under his own name called The Story of My Light. In a James Blake/Bon Iver synth-laden era of dreamy music, North sticks mostly to acoustic guitar and reverb (lots of echo) to achieve his intended mood.
He also breaks from the former pair by having a full, low voice that expresses in its cracks and breaks, not in falsetto warbling. The result is a 9-song, 25-minute collection that deftly balances the weightlessness of dream state with the heft of real instruments (saxophone on “Liberation Sound,” low flute on “Cold Company”). There are some ups and downs throughout the EP, as North doesn’t balance all the parts of the sound against his vocals perfectly yet, but the overall effect is good. An intriguing starting point for future releases.
I praised The Pizza Thieves‘ “Real American Boy” as a post-Pixies wonder, and their debut follows up on that promise. Hippopotamus employs skronked-out surf rock guitars, reverb, howling vocals, and propulsive drums to wrest a mighty, fidelity-irrelevant noise out of just two members. A surprising amount of keys and acoustic guitar (“Skeleton Bride,” “Run, Run, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Rabbit Run!”) could point in a future direction, but the majority of this one is gleeful thrash and mash.
The amount you’ll enjoy Hippopotamus is directly proportional to how much of your listening time is spent to bands like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees; at 55 minutes, casual fans of surf-damaged garage rock will check out long before the 7-minute “Vitrification/Pt. 2” (check the intentional nod/debt owed to “Where is My Mind”) wraps up. But it’s a fun blast for as much as you can take.
I’ve been going through a personal pop-punk revival as of late, but I’ve found the outer extremes of what my current self enjoys in Stream City‘s Welcome Paramnesia. The hyperkinetic snare-drum gallop and mashing guitar strum that the band starts uses as a foundation is standard SoCal fare, but the Danish band incorporates touches of metal (“Shores of Lethe,” “Hello Gravity”), folky melodic interludes (“Paramnesia”), faux-Gothic harpsichord (“In Limbo”) and Irish/klezmer/old world traditional violin melodies (“Fisherman’s Tale”) to differentiate from other bands. The result is a varied six-song effort that plays out like a less-morbid AFI or a less drama-intensive My Chemical Romance at twice the speed.
One of my best friends and I are huge folk fans. We share some of the same loves (Josh Ritter, Simon and Garfunkel, Iron and Wine), but we diverge pretty hard at one point: he’s a big fan of the British folk sound, and I’m a big fan of the American folk sound. The British folk sound has a very open sound: capturing the sound of rolling hills on the English countryside, the music often abounds with flutes, mandolin, and other optimistic sounds. American folk has a much less optimistic air about it; Dylan’s strum-heavy protest songs and Simon and Garfunkel’s world-weary pop/folk tunes set the stage for the depressing world that American folk resides in.
The Points North take a distinctly British approach to folk, although they hail from Boston. Accordion, flute, delicately fingerpicked guitar, piano, mandolin and more permeate the sound, creating a rollicking sound. But even though these songs are charming, melodic, and sunny, they never become less weighty. Page France was one of the only other bands I know of that was able to capture the balance between giddy music and serious content. And The Points North don’t geek out on a Michael Nau-esque level; they’re much more tempered than that. Stately, as the Brits might say.
If Sufjan Stevens were a little more obsessed with flute, he could have written “Cape Tryon”; the background vocals and general feel of the song would have fit perfectly on Illinoise! If the Low Anthem cracked a smile every now and then, they would be happy to claim the elegaic accordion intro of “I Awoke a Child.” If Nick Drake had found friends to play with him, he could have written half these songs, from the peculiar picking rhythm of “Ever Bright White” to the carefree feel of “Tires & the Pavement.” There are elements of Nickel Creek’s joyful pop (minus the bluegrass), and Novi Split’s goofy swooping musical instruments.
Although I’ve spent most of this album saying who the Points North sound like, that’s not to their discredit. This isn’t an album that causes me to wince every time I hear a musical familiarity. On the other hand, these references (intentional or otherwise) cause excitement and increase enjoyment. The sound isn’t as intimate as my favorite folk bands, due to the myriad of sounds going on, but that’s not what The Points North were shooting for.
The Points North’s I Saw Across the Sound is a unique release, written and recorded with clarity of idea. It’s a very distinctive brand of folk that draws off all the aforementioned bands, but copies none of them. Quite enjoyable and talented.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.