Released: June 2015
Another hazy summer indie rock outfit to make its way to these shores from America’s West Coast is Northern American, who on their debut LP display all the hallmarks of trippy pop rock with wandering melodies, ‘60s inspired drum beats and subtle yet decisively employed bass lines. Perhaps lacking in the originality department, Modern Phenomena is nonetheless an enchanting listen that pays tribute to psychedelic acts past and present.
It is no surprise that this quartet of musical explorers have found airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music and XFM, as this is the exact kind of indie sound that has characterised British airwaves for over a decade. Hints of Tame Impala, Temples and Kasabian serve to mould a sound that will doubtlessly play a part in our indie scene this summer, as spiritual melodicism fuses with defiant stomping percussion to intriguing effect. Proving that pop music doesn’t have to be straightforward and down to Earth, this is an album that experiments with sound whilst maintaining irresistible commercial hooks and dance-rock vibes.
Lead singer Nate Paul’s earthly, metropolitan vocal style rings of classic indie from Richard Ashcroft to Jimi Goodwin – a defiant, emphatic and distinctly British sound considering this band’s American origins. Juxtaposed with this however is an undeniably Californian vibe as tracks such as You Remind Me and Feel Like Whatever present melodic, celestial sound bites through effects-driven guitars and synth excerpts. Also differentiating this album from its British contemporaries is the effortless, chilled ethos that rings throughout, as a melancholy, sometimes even pained vocal is subdued by soothing beats and warm, minimalist bass.
At times this effortlessness translates as laziness: bland rhyming couplets show much of the music’s true colours when the sound of Oasis drums and epic delay effects try to convey a sense of gravitas and meaning that simply isn’t there. Equally, some melodies are pretty standard indie fodder and the structures of most songs are oddly formulaic for a band trying to convey the experimental and otherworldly. Despite these drawbacks, however, Northern American show real depth in many tracks, Strange Behaviour and Days Between being particular testaments to the Los Angeles outfit’s knack for adding emotional intricacy to simplistic dance beats.
Calming yet powerful, urban yet unearthly, Modern Phenomena is a fine recreation of the classic psych-rock sound that has dominated indie music since the turn of the millennium. Whilst hints of lad rock bravado alongside arty instrumentalism make for varied listening, this debut from Northern American is for the most part a straightforward compilation of all the noises that make bands such as MGMT, Beach House and Jagwar Ma work. What matters now is how these guys utilise their influences, and turn this sound into something completely new.