Wednesday 15 April 2020

Nord - The Only Way to Reach the Surface (2020)

Country: France
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 17 Apr 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Here's another highly varied post-rock album to take you on a voyage to wild and exotic places you've never visited before. It appears to be one song in nine parts, so there's a concept in play here but it's a vague one indeed, a line on the Nord Bandcamp page suggesting at "Love, Frustration, Work, Death and a possible Shining Light in the end."

This journey through life is a real exercise in contrasts, the first half of the album alternating between short quiet pieces in various styles and loud, anarchic ones. The opening track might be seen as an intro, revolving around a heavily effect-laden vocal that's unaccompanied for a third of its running time and only minimally for the other two, but perhaps, if we have some sort of protagonist, it's his or her safe space, a warm moment that could be the last time they remember being truly happy. It's appropriately called Love.

Lulled into a false sense of security, we're then hit by Violent Shapes, as violent a song as its name suggests. A black metal-esque wall of sound leads into a purposeful bass and a progression of noisy indie rock, reminiscent in turns of seventies punk, the post-punks who followed it and even latter day bands like the early Chili Peppers.

Then we're back to peace, with a classy interlude on strings, but then it's right back to the turmoil of life in the form of the noisy, if not quite as anarchic, The Unstoppable, with guest vocalist Désiré Le Goff of Nesseria to add to the tumult. There's a lot here to process in only five minutes, which may well be the point: djenty guitarwork, prog metal, hardcore shouts, even a quiet moment before the song ramps back up to a noisy outro and a pleasant follow-up in the indie rock interlude called Happy Shores.

The album really got interesting for me as it moved towards its second half, when the contrasts stop showing up as numbered interludes but parts of songs with a variety of textures.

Anger Management, somewhat ironically given its title, is less angry than a couple of prior songs. There's an angry section, but the majority runs more to a more mature flow, with synth power chords over tribal drums and a voice half-hidden behind it all. Perhaps, at this point, it's about management not anger, even if it does erupt into a wild solo towards the end.

My favourite song here is We Need to Burn Down This Submarine, with ominous synths leading us into gloriously rolling drums and prog metal fretwork and a surprisingly subdued but characterful vocal. I'm a big fan of the drums on this album, both Thibault's playing and the drum sound that came out of the mix. I also like the playfulness here, with a guitar in each speaker and an exploratory jazzy feel. The growing intensity of Florent's vocals are icing on the cake.

There's one more song, the intriguingly titled 1215225, Part 2, with a neat vocal showcase but little time to fully explore its ideas, before the album wraps up with the epic sixteen minute title track. It's a rollercoaster of a song, bringing more jazz into play and even some surf guitar too, along with a lot more prog of varying heaviness. I didn't grasp the flow of this track, just as I may have only generally found a vague narrative across the album, but I did like these individual pieces for their own sakes.

What's telling is that they're so different in tone and approach that I have to express surprise at not being able to name any more favourites. It's not that We Need to Burn Down This Submarine is the only good song here, because all this is interesting, carefully constructed and well played music. It may be because, as different as these pieces are, I do think of them as parts of a larger piece of music. The title track is, in many ways, the entire album in miniature, a varied and versatile set of musical ideas that somehow feels coherent, even if we can't explain why. And that makes this album a success.

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