Norfolk & Western sing "The Unsung Colony"
Norfolk & Western's new album, "The Unsung Colony," initially seems to be an unassuming project, but so does a pot of water initially placed on a hot burner. Give it a little time and you'll see the bubbles being to rise, but like any good chef, they don't let the boil get out of hand.
For those of you who prefer music to be timed with your seasons, look no further, because "The Unsung Colony" is your perfect late fall/early winter album.
N&W are an indie-folk band that technically only consists of two people, but their many frequent collaborators who employ atypical instrumentation help to create a comforting, full-bodied sound. Their ambitious arrangements make use of the banjo, an accordian, string quartet, vibraphone, pedal steel, trumpet, and saw among the standards like guitar and drum set. The band has even been known to incorporate film into their live shows.
"The Unsung Colony" was written as a Constitution of sorts, a representation of the band's highly collaborative process, where the songs aren't imperialistically forced into place. They are nurtured, fed, and allowed to flower into their own beautiful shape. Each song has their own style, their own shape, their own personality, but the songs hum sweetly and dreamily, and fit perfectly in to place.
The album's first track, "The Longest Stare" opens with tape threading through a movie projector and when the vocals break through Adam Selzer sings, "Quiet is how you like it," setting up the expectations for the album quite nicely. "The Longest Stare" is deliberately paced. The second track picks up the pace, reflecting a similar sound from their previous album, "A Guilded Age." It also brings me back to the idea that these songs are allowed to direct themselves, causing me to wonder if this track wasn't once something else before it's flowering changed into the track we now hear?
"How to Reel In" is a sweet look at growing up and looking back. "Banish All Rock" stumbles awkwardly along with trumpets that wander drunkenly off key. And there are little instrumental pieces that sprout from between the tracks through the album, like a surprise flower springing up from the middle of the sidewalk. At the end of the album I was pleased, but couldn't help but wonder what I had missed; there are so many gems quietly nestled in the musical staff on which they were conceived. I wanted to immediately give it another spin.
As far as the album artwork, the American Primitive Painting style (from band mate Rachel Blumberg), five paintings in all, make it well worth the trek to your local record store, rather than the download from iTunes.
Norfolk & Western will be unfortunately skipping Milwaukee on their tour in support of this album, but you can catch them visiting our neighbor in Madison's Cafe Monmarte on Tuesday, Nov. 14 or in Chicago's beautiful Subterranean on Wednesday, Nov. 15. I'll be there (if you want a ride).
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