Andy LeMaster, despite the Frenglish translation of his last name, has been known at Saddle Creek as a `behind-the-scenes’ kind of figure, playing multi-instrumentalist for the likes of Conor Oberst and Azure Ray, the latter of which returned the favor by becoming background vocalists for his own project, Now It’s Overhead. Three albums later, and LeMaster is starting to live up to that surname. Dark Light Daybreak is the new album from Now It’s Overhead, as varied in sound as the bands that make up Saddle Creek’s roster, and as accomplished as anything previously released on the label. Whereas once LeMaster’s group was known as a shoegaze band that yielded comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and the Cure, Dark Light Daybreak finds Now It’s Overhead in new territory, lighter and more effusive, while maintaining a shadowy intimate side, making the album title simply perfect.
“Let the Sirens Rest” opens the album, a mixture of sounds that one wouldn’t think could mesh together, being part Depeche Mode dark keyboards, part Drive By Truckers pedal steel (thanks to guest John Neff!) and part Doves “Caught by the River” vocals and guitar. It does mesh, and immediately puts you on guard, because this might not be the NIO you remember, nor does it really inform you as to what’s coming up on the rest of the album. Though many found the MBV comparisons unwarranted on previous albums, there’s no dying that second track “Estranged” resembles something from Loveless, or at least like one of Kevin Shields’ later compositions from the Lost in Translation soundtrack. “Walls” then takes the album in a completely new direction, driving and relentless, like the Faint in a mashup with Jawbox.
The title track provides another highlight with another Depeche Mode-like percussion line, the impassioned vocals of Radiohead and LeMaster’s own penchant for dramatic song structure. “Meaning to Say,” which immediately follows, makes the best one-two punch combination on the record. It combines those catchy elements of Britpop with an American sound, like DM’s “Waiting for the Night,” the Doves and Spoon all rolled into one. “Let Up,” a desperate plea, consists of just vocals, guitar and handclaps to astounding effect. “Nothing in Our Way” is juxtaposed with the previous song, ending the album on a decidedly more positive note, finding LeMaster’s sweet voice at its most honeyed, more than just resembling Thom Yorke circa The Bends. In fact, at times, it’s almost uncanny.
Now It’s Overhead has ceased to gaze at their shoes, at least for most of the album, and now they’re looking either toward the horizon and what it holds for them, or to where their moniker points them, to the heavens. Dark Light Daybreak proves that LeMaster is more than just a multi-instrumentalist with a side project. Instead, he’s a singer / songwriter in his own right who happens to lend a hand to his friends when they need him. Saddle Creek has long been known as the stomping grounds for that dreamy wunderkind Conor Oberst, but after this album, it might not be long before Andy is LeMaster, and Oberst the servant.
Doves- The Last Broadcast
Radiohead- My Iron Lung EP
Bright Eyes- Digital Ash in a Digital Urn