Written by: The Administrator
And now for something completely different! Today's album (and band) in question covers a unique blend of genres that don't get a whole lot of coverage 'round these parts--or any parts, for that matter, that we slumbering scribes tend to frequent. With that disclaimer in mind: let's dive in.
On their latest effort, Shocking Stories! (And Those Who Dare to Tell Them,) The Northway play a difficult-to-place conglomerate of pop punk, prog, math rock, and perhaps some alt metal, with a few other assorted elements weaving their respective ways into the chaotic fold. There's an alternative rock/metal angst on display, as well as a ska-esque sense of hype. Most notable, however, is the prominent role of the utterly unexpected. Take, for example, early album highlight "Trampolinehead," which blends a straightforward punk riff with a delightful Gentle Giant-by-way-of-Primus level of prog weirdness. There's a jazz lounge solo, a de la Rocha rap-rock moment, and a whole lotta assorted oddities besides. And if you think this is wacky, the excellent "City Trial" takes similarly disparate elements and cranks 'em up to 11. This thing is like the unholy alt-metal lovechild of Haken 's proggy tendencies and, I dunno, the early-aughts swagger of Priestess. And even that only covers a fraction of this track's identity. The entire album exists in a similarly fluid state, and, as a result, it's incredibly fun to experience.
Sonically, everything moves at a whiplash pace from one moment to the next, and as soon as a single seemingly formative element appears, it is washed away in the tide of genre discombobulation. I mean, even the seemingly predictable drum solo track--the appropriately entitled "Nick's Interlude"--employs an ambient element that wouldn't feel out of place in a cosmic prog-metal opus. Even the seemingly straightforward numbers involve a gloriously unpredictable energy--"Tiny House Spaceship," for example, employs an acoustic intro that shifts into a furious punky pace, but eventually shifts down to feature some melodic licks and a devolution into noisy feedback. "Bomb Threat Checklist" feels, for the most part, like a fairly standard rock/punk banger, but still manages to subtly employ a variety of unexpected sights and sounds. For sake of (perhaps misguided) comparison: think Punk in Drublic with a little less sneer and a little more melodic sensibility.
All told, this experimentation with genre is endlessly fun, and serves to maintain attention in a way that is regrettably uncommon. As a listener, I genuinely have no clue what to expect from track to track, let along second to second. That aspect alone makes Shocking Stories! (And Those Who Dare to Tell Them) endlessly entertaining. A real joy to experience. Beyond that, the real heart and soul of this album seems to be a humor born from a self-awareness and a subversion of tropes. The narrative arc of rousing album opener "Skateboard Pedalboard," for example, is a clever and ridiculous take on a classic coming-of-age tale.
But the general lay of the land shouldn't distract from the technical performance, which is, dare I say, on fuckin' point. The guitar effortlessly transitions between tempos, moods, and tones with an admirable grace, and the assorted frenzy of licks and riffs are never lacking. The percussive department is particularly strong as well, with an crisp sense of urgency forming the framework for many of the tracks herein. The vocal work is also quite impressive for the most part, nimbly crossing a variety of sonic and emotive lines in the sand with an admirable ease. Rawness is clearly an aesthetic choice here, and given the vibe, it works well. Critically, there are some tracks where the vocals do feel disconnected from the instrumentation, resulting in a vaguely ungrounded feeling--the front halves of "One Man Down" and the aforementioned "Bomb Threat Checklist" come to mind as moments where the vocals distract from the larger pictures. That said, do feel a tad unqualified to critically comment, given that the clean-albeit-punky delivery is not often encountered in the musty confines of the Sleeping Village.
In the case of literally any other band, I would likely be put off by the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to composition, but here, the eclecticism is so incredibly central to the album's identity that it swiftly becomes one of the band's strongest suits. This album flows like a series of tangentially connected vignettes, and approaching it as such is the key to enjoyment. In short: if you're in the mood for something out of the ordinary, I really can't recommend The Northway enough. This is a killer album, plain and simple, loaded to the brim with the kind of intriguingly eccentric and jubilant tracks that stick around for a long, long while. Case in point: much to the chagrin of the (few) people in my immediate vicinity, I've been yelling out "SKATEBOARD PEDALBOARD" with alarming frequency and volume.
Shocking Stories! (And Those Who Dare to Tell Them) is a catchy, colorful, and chaotic affair--in other words, a damn good album. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
The Northway - Shocking Stories! (And Those Who Dare to Tell Them) was released Oct. 16th, 2020
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!