With a drawling yet propulsive first lunge into one’s ears, Norfolk & Western’s “The Longest Stare” is immediately invigorating. The lackadaisical psychedelic swoon of its curves and contours could be seen as old hat, but it thankfully has enough stately beauty to be considered among the best examples of their own psych-gypsy-folk genre, though I can’t name any other psych-gypsy-folk artists. Needless to say by now, Norfolk & Western have the hallmarks of the predecessors in several genres, but have cleverly squashed them into one big, flat slab of something else.
The glottal guitars on “From The Interests Of New” are pure New York skronk fodder, but buoyed ever-so valiantly by coolly stroked acoustic backgrounds to lubricate the sides, making it a little easier to swallow. This is the typical formula for The Unsung Colony—elements that would be monstrous without the sensible temporalisation that only the most subtle and easy of dreamy accompaniments can bring. Soft piano plonks, slapping drums and ride cymbals aplenty, this is a world to lose oneself in consummately and without shame. The quirky swagger of “Banish All Rock” is, instrumentally, pure Neutral Milk Hotel, but luckily has the saintly voice of Adam Selzer to back it up. While he’s no Mangum, he does have a wispy Robert Wyatt-esque poke to his voice that soothes as much as it stabs, strong in wispy nuance. A fine pop mind also comes to the fore through breezy gems like “The Shortest Stare,” as wonderful as any of the Decemberists’ (whose former drummer is within Norfolk & Western’s varied ranks) output over the last two years.
Simple lines of trumpet and piano melody dodge one another with grace and gravitational poise – this music is utterly unshakable. It lives in its own tiny world where girls leave home at fifteen only to meet men who are “18 but twice her age” (“How to Reel In”), where gin is duty-free (“Arrangements Made”) and, above all, where the lines between beautiful music and searching narratives are completely scrapped. All the necessary elements are mashed together with the glee of a toddler learning to draw his own house a little better each day, the delicate clacking of woody drums and organic guitar harmonies ringing through his ears.
Always fresh, Norfolk & Western have created a fruitful, dicey and wonderful record, imbued with the kind of charm reserved for lamented British mood-makers Ella Guru. An atmosphere of reserve and stately purpose is maintained throughout, be it via irreverently poppy (they might deny that, but it’s poppier than balloons) or sweltering psychedelic tension-building. This, happily, is a record to treasure.
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