“…a terrific album that delivers superior melodies along with adventurous arrangements. Highly recommended…” – Powerpopaholic
Compact Disc, Digital Download Released May 19, 2009 on Dying Van Gogh Records (DVG002). Soft release March 2009.
- Produced by Roger Houdaille, except * by Fernando Perdomo
- Mixed by Zach Ziskin
Roger Houdaille: Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Nina Souto: Bass, Vocals
Arturo Garcia: Drums, Vocals
Michelle Grand: Vocals
Billie G: Additional lead guitar
It’s difficult to get a feel for the tone of Standby, the debut record from Miami indie rock band Ex Norwegian; there really isn’t an overall “tone” to speak of, and the styles are all over the map. But in order to give you an idea of what to expect, let’s examine the album’s sixth track, “Sudeki Lover.” For two minutes, it’s a longing alternative song touched by the 80’s, complete with reverb-y guitars, tingling sound effects, synthesizers and falsettos. Then, at the 1:58 mark, it becomes a bluesy classic rock song, sounding a bit like heavy Pink Floyd. At 2:31, we get seven seconds of ELO-type vocal harmonies, and finally, at 2:38, there’s 14 seconds of grungy, Nirvana-style thrashing to close out the song. Now, I’m a prog-rock nerd. I listen to more than a few bands who like to change keys, tempos and styles more than once throughout a song. But I don’t know of any who do it in songs under three minutes long.
That’s the allure of this album: it’s inventive and quirky without ever becoming too artsy, and it’s completely original. The strengths of Standby are aided by its brevity; out of twelve songs, only two clock in at over three minutes. As a result, nothing here overstays its welcome, so to speak. The record’s style, as I said, is hard to pin down, bouncing from jangly powerpop to alternative to dance rock to punk with the ease of a sorority girl jumping between frat boys. If anything, Ex Norwegian’s style could be called unconventional; some of the vocals are a bit nasal, and some of the chord progressions are a little odd. But when most of the songs finish up in two and a half minutes, these little quirks become not just tolerable, but pretty damn endearing.
Of course, that’s not to say that Standby is totally lacking in catchiness. After the slightly “off” but strangely memorable “Fujeira In My Dreamsssss” (not how it’s spelled, but that’s how it’s sung; it’s pretty awesome), we’re hit with two fantastically hummable tunes in “Don’t Bother” and “Something Unreal,” both replete with great harmonies, good guitar solos and one-liners that you’ll be singing in your head non-stop. “Dance Trance Pants” is both goofy and groovy, and the record closes with the spectacular “My Name Is Paul,” whose melody is so impossibly addictive that I’m pretty sure it plays in my head while I’m sleeping. (I might add that it was written about Paul Wolfowitz, as “A song to humanize the political elite class.”) The rest of the album finds the band doing the aforementioned style-bouncing, from the alternative-rock sounding “Fresh Pit” and “Add Vice,” to the almost-plagiarized-from-the-Beatles “Gross You” to the punk-rock “Pow3rfull.” While parts of the record are, admittedly, strange, they’re never dragged out long enough to warrant a push of the ‘skip’ button.
Somehow, all of these disparate influences come together to create 33 minutes of bliss; I’ve been listening to this album twice a day for the last week. Ex Norwegian has accomplished something rare–especially rare among debut albums–with Standby: they’ve put out a record whose whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. They’ve combined powerpop, classic rock and indie with a touch of the weird to craft an innovative and original sound. Their style may be hard to put into a genre, but it is most definitely all their own. I’ll be looking forward to hearing more from this band in the future.
This CD arrived in our trusty little mailbox with no accompanying literature or press release whatsoever. And in this particular case that’s fine with us…because the music on Standby speaks for itself. Ex Norwegian is the trio consisting of Roger Houdaille (vocals, guitars, mellotron, synthesizers), Carolina Souto (bass), and Arturo Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals)…along with a few friends and/or guest artists lending some additional support. This album presents twelve smart, clean, hummable pop tunes that are simultaneously accessible and artistically credible. Songs are the main focus of the band’s energies…and they come up with a wealth of credible tunes here. The vocals are up front in the mix and easily understood…the guitars smart and precise…and the songs padded with just enough instrumentation to make them seem thick and full without coming across sounding overproduced. These folks combine some of the best elements from 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s pop…all the while presenting their songs with all the crystal clear clarity that twenty-first century technology allows. Super smart effective cuts include “Fujeira In My Dreams,” “Something Unreal,” “Add Vice,” and “All Over Again.” Great pop stuff. Recommended.
Miami-based indie pop band Ex Norwegian started life in 2008 at the CMJ Music Marathon. The band name came from a Monty Python “Dead Parrot” skit, and the debut album came out last March. It’s one of those hard to pigeon hole bands that have elements of dance, power pop, new wave and punk all overlapping each other.
It all starts with “Fujeira in My Dreams” and vocalist/songwriter Roger Houdaille‘s echoing chorus and blistering guitar riffs. You can compare the wall of fuzz sound with on “Don’t Bother” with Superdrag, but you can’t deny the irresistibly catchiness of the songs here and that’s what makes the album a winner. It also helps that Roger openly loves the quick two minute pop song here. Some tracks like “Fresh Pit” and “Sudeki Lover” jangle along like The Shins, or others like “Dance Trance Pants” have a simple groove and bouncy chorus you can sing along to.
Other tunes mine the Kinks 70’s era (“Sad Wonder”, “Something Unreal”) or pop punk (“Pow3rfull”). Each song easily accessible and it’s an understandable part of why the band has been a critical success. The band’s best quality is also it’s biggest problem, without a distinct signature sound – it’s very easy for this album to sound like a mix tape of other bands. They very briefly transcend this on the brilliant power pop of “Add Vice” – – but the band needs to decide a direction if they don’t want all this good will to fade away.
What’s in a name? Potentially plenty when a band dubs itself Ex-Norwegian and there’s not a Scandinavian expatriate in the bunch. Admittedly though, it’s a considerably better handle than the moniker given its predecessor, the absolutely incongruous Father Bloopy. Fortunately, there’s reason enough to forgive the band’s lynchpin, Roger Houdaille for his strange choice in nom de plumes; whatever his shortcomings in that regard, it doesn’t diminish his melodic prowess or his ability to inspire a rousing performance from his collaborators. Consequently, this new trio – Houdaille (vocals, guitar, mellotron, synths), Carolina Souto (bass) and Arturo Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals) – make amends with a stirring debut that’s chock full of exuberant, exhilarating performances and a unerring pop sensibility that’s both brash and irresistible.
In truth, Standby isn’t so much a variation from Houdaille’s Father Bloopy guise as it is a further affirmation of his melodic abilities, newly bolstered by an assertive stance and a modern rock regimen. The staccato rhythms of “Fujeira In My Dreams,” the unrelenting pace of “Pow3full” and the steady stomp and surge of “Dance Trance Pants” all testify to the band’s revved up delivery, confidence and poise. What’s equally impressive is Ex-Norwegian’s ability to flirt with
radio-ready possibilities, be it with the pop-perfect “Sad Wonder,” the buoyant refrains of “Fresh Pit” or the percolating “Add Vice,” which, coincidentally or not, retraces the sound of the soul classic “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” So no matter what name they paste above the marquee, Standby is nothing less than a standout.
EXPLODING IN SOUND
Ex Norwegian, named after a Monty Python skit, play a form of highly infectious pop/rock that borrows and pulls from just about every imaginable rock n roll genre for a sound that is unique and refreshing. To call their debut album “Standby” infectious is a bit of an understatement. This Miami quartet has crafted an entire LP of songs that will be stuck in your head for days on end. To be completely honest, when I was first introduced to Ex Norwegian’s music I thought it was cool, but nothing exceptional. That feeling lasted for maybe one day before I found myself with a strong urge to listen to them again. That time I liked them a bit more. Later that day I found that urge back again, and I liked them yet a bit more. Any band that demands multiple listens to grow on me is generally well worth the time, and this is no exception. “Standby” is a stellar pop album that should be widely embraced by radio for its outstanding guitar rock and quirky vocal deliveries. Comprised of Roger Houdaille, Carolina Souto on bass, Arturo Garcia on drums, and Billie G on guitar, their influences cover a wide range from the Kinks, Lou Reed and Talking Heads to Nirvana, Cake, and Jethro Tull, and the combination of these sounds is very much Ex Norwegian.
“Fujeira in my Dreams” opens the album with simple sun soaked guitar licks and deep pounding drums. There is a respectful amount of reverb on the vocals, but not to the point of distorting the lyrics. Everything sounds crisp and jangly, just the way a power-pop album should begin. While Ex Norwegian have only been together since 2008, singer/guitarist/songwriter Roger Houdaille first wrote this song way back in ’04 with his former band, Father Bloopy. “Don’t Bother” contains a sickly sweet and irresistible melody that would make great company with Superdrag’s brightest moments. As the song says “It’s good for me and me you,” and they’re not lying. This is pop music like fine art, keeping things honest, simple, and rocking. “Something Unreal” is not a track you will soon forget. After a listen of this song, you’ll be hearing it in your head for days and weeks to come. The memorable vocal melody sinks deep, and doesn’t let up; this is their pop gem for the world, now it’s just up to the world to take notice.
“Fresh Pit” features singing from female vocalist Michelle Grand, no longer part of the band, but adds excellent texture to their ever changing sound. The guitars wind like a tamer version of Modest Mouse or Built to Spill. “Pow3rfull” is their punk rock anthem with a vocal effect that comes across sounding like sun soaked stoner legends Fu Manchu’s mid-catalog works. With punchy stop and start solos from the guitars and drums, this song is short and to the point. “Sudeki Lover” was written by Eric Hernandez of the hardcore band Capsule and features a hypnotic tribal drum pattern with darting angular guitar playing that adds an indie/prog feel that could appeal to …Trail of Dead fans. With all these influences mixed into their power-pop filter, Ex Norwegian genuinely has delivered a pure pop album that fans of hard rock can embrace.
“Add Vice” is a quirky love song of the likes that Weezer would have killed to write back in the early 90s. “Gross You” contains a strong Beach Boys influence with its vocals pushed to the forefront and mellotron accompaniment. Beautiful Miami weather must play a large part in their sound, as these songs have a strong summer quality to them, not to mention a bit of psychedelic musicianship. “Dance Trance Pants,” their second single, has a 70s glam meets The Killers vibe. An electro influenced “dance track” continues the albums evolution through genres, but I personally could have done without that one. “All Over Again” is their “prog pop” submission with plenty of shifting timings covering a lot of territory while still remaining just under the three minute mark.
The album closes on a slower note with “Sad Wonder” and “My Name is Paul,” a song Houdaille describes as, “a song to humanize the political elite class. Paul Wolfowitz (former World Bank President) and co. are a delusional bunch…and this song is a light hearted attempt at seeing the world thru their eyes.” These songs may not have the same syrupy power pop charm as the beginning of the album, but serve as a great closing point to a promising debut.
In a world where hip-hop and pop music are the Holy Grail and Lil’ Wayne and Lady Gaga its saviors, the rock, with minute traces of pop, of Ex Norwegian is like a breath of fresh air. Though hailing from Miami, Florida, the fivesome, composed of Roger Houdaille (vocals and guitar), Carolina Souto (bass guitar and vocals), Arturo Garcia (drums and vocals), Billie G (guitar), and Michelle Grand (vocals on recordings and occasional live performances), actually sounds like something out of California circa late 90s/early 2000s.
Ex Norwegian is reminiscent of those really great California bands from your teens, think Phantom Planet without the commercialism or Lifehouse without the religious undertones. They are a simple, but brilliant band with good lyrics and good music. They make really great angst ridden songs, be it teen or adult, that make you want to sit by a fire on the beach and have an impromptu sing-a-long with your friends.
Yes, this Oceanside music is a bit of a twist for us nowadays. When, whenever we turn on the radio, we hear the up tempo dance music of Rihanna or Flo Rida, or someone who sounds exactly like them. Don’t get me wrong, Ex Norwegian is like something we have heard before, but something we haven’t heard in a long time and with a twist.
For one this band is surprisingly coed, which is remarkable given that most mainstream bands are male dominated. But Ex Norwegian actually features a mix of boys and girls on both instruments and vocals that make a lovely blend of musical concinnity.
While the music does feature angst, it’s not the depressing Emo kind that makes you want to sit in your room, crying over a broken heart. The lyrics can be bleak and hopeless at times, “Million miles away they celebrate your day/its good for shoes its good for me and me you/A Million miles away/You got it saved – no don’t bother/Gotta save, what maybe next year…what YEAR?”, but the up tempo guitar and bass juxtaposed with the daunting lyrics give off a more kumbayaish vibe. They actually make you want to get together with a group of your friends and sing in the car, on the beach, or maybe even at a graduation party. This is good music.
So I ask in time when these manufactured singers who not only sing, but act, model, have clothing lines, AND are spokespersons for various brands, and are actually more celebrity than music, are we ready for a simple Miami band with a California sound that makes you want to possibly cry and yet belt your heart out with a group of friends at the same time? If so, then world, we are ready for something as amazing as Ex Norwegian.
MIAMI NEW TIMES
Local band Ex-Norwegian’s name doesn’t make much sense — we’re not talking about legitimate Scandinavian expatriates here, after all. But consider it an improvement over ringleader Roger Houdaille’s former nom de plume, Father Bloopy. Fortunately, there’s reason enough to forgive Houdaille for his unfortunate choice of monikers; it doesn’t diminish his melodic prowess or his ability to initiate a rousing performance from his collaborators. Consequently, this new trio — Houdaille (vocals, guitar, Mellotron, synths), Carolina Souto (bass), and Arturo Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals) — makes its mark with a stirring debut, Standby, recently released on indie label Dying Van Gogh. The record is chock full of exuberant, exhilarating performances and a unerring pop sensibility that’s both brash and irresistible.
In truth, Standby isn’t so much a variation from Houdaille’s Father Bloopy guise as it is a bold extension, given its more assertive stance and modern rock regimen. The staccato rhythms of “Fujeira in My Dreams,” the unrelenting pace of “Pow3rfull,” and the steady stomp and surge of “Dance Trance Pants” all testify to the band’s revved-up delivery and sonic savvy. What’s equally impressive is Ex-Norwegian’s ability to flirt with a radio-ready stance, be it on the seemingly pop-perfect “Sad Wonder,” the buoyant “Fresh Pit,” or the percolating “Add Vice,” which, coincidentally or not, retraces the sound of the soul classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” With those kinds of credentials, Standby can be recommended without reservation.
Standby is a love letter to a slew of different genres. Alternative, grunge, geek-rock, new wave and dance-punk all receive tributes, often in the same compact song. There’s some incongruities that come as a result of the style smashups, but while there’s no underlying theme, the album doesn’t sound disjointed. If you’re not listening for the next genre reference, it’s easy to lay back and simply hum the choruses or spin around to the melodies. The influences are there, but one needn’t be fully aware of them to get the most out of Standby.
We all know of at least one local band that’s been around forever, puts out loads of material, plays all around town, but never seems to break. Nothing could be further from the truth for Miami quartet Ex-Norwegian, who notoriously played the CMJ Marathon just a mere months after uniting (before playing one single gig at Little Haiti haunt Churchill’s too.) With only two solid singles to their name-the instantly catchy, Lemonheads-esque folkie pop number “Something Unreal” and the dancey playful tune “Dance Trance Pants”- the band managed to drum up enough demand for a proper full length (out on March 17th.) Lead singer/guitarist Roger Houdaille pens all the sweeping harmonies on this collection of jangly power pop. Some of the standouts not to be missed-the Meat Puppets inspired track “Add Vice” and the crunchy “Fujeira In My Dreams.” ~ Alex Rendon
THE FIRE NOTE
THE JANGLE BOX (in Spanish)
Ex Nowergian [sic] es una banda de muy reciente creación (están juntos desde el verano de 2008) procedente de Miami liderada por Roger Houdaille que ha conseguido registrar su álbum de debut antes del año de su inicio de andadura musical. Y a fe que se lo merecen, porque se trata de una banda de Power-Pop enérgico y acelerado, de esas que gustan tanto por este Blog. Una especie de The Posies con toques de Mathew Sweet o de Polara con aderezos de Big Star, Foofighters o Nirvana. Una auténtica gozada de disco que se disfruta tan sólo en apenas media hora de brillantes melodías convenientemente aderezadas con arreglos vocales y guitarras nerviosas de brillante ejecución. Difícil quedarse con algún tema en especial porque son todos bastante remarcables, pero podíamos mencionar Pow3rfull, un tema agitado en el que la banda saca a relucir toda su energía Power-Pop. Fresh pit es otro precioso tema que nos recuerda a bandas de los ´70 como The Records, por su tratamiento de la melodía y la instrumentación. Add vice, Sad wonder, My name is Paul, Fujeira in my dreams van también en la misma línea Power-Pop, aunque son temas algo más relajados.
Otra serie de ellos van en una onda más melódica y calmada aunque no menos guitarrera: Don´t bother; Something unreal (su primer single editado el año pasado), un tema que no tiene nada que envidiarle al mejor Paul McCartney; Gross you tiene unas voces preciosas; All over again es otro temazo con influencias que podríamos encontrar en la armoniosidad de Badfinger. Un disco a seguir de cerca al menos para los amantes del POP con mayúsculas, las buenas composiciones intemporales y el buen hacer instrumental.
Ex Norwegian are nothing of the sort, apparently getting their name from a Monty Python sketch (uselessly, I can’t recall which one). 2009’s Standby is their first album, a pleasing mélange of powerpop and psychedelic styles, just for once not immediately traceable to the mid-to-late ’60s, making them that rarest of things in the loosely ‘retro’ field: a band with their own voice. Also a band with great, memorable songs, something that’s in short supply in their chosen genre(s); too many bands settle for getting the sound right, then thinking about the material later, if at all. Top tracks? Well, they’re all good, but the riff on Fresh Pit is to die for, while Add Vice features several hooks on various instruments, not least voice. Roger Houdaille plays self-confessed samplotron, although the strings on Don’t Bother have an especially ‘real’ feel, going by the hanging chord at the end of the track. We also get wispy choirs on Pow3rfull, strings on Sudeki Lover and another exceptionally pseudo-‘real’ part on Add Vice, alongside a snarling analogue synth, with more strings elsewhere. A real treat for those who value quality songwriting over image or flash, then, although I’m not so sure about the Beatles steal on Gross You…
Power pop ought to be loud, crunchy and impossibly catchy. Ex Norwegian is loud, generally crunchy and catchier than it seems on first listen. These songs take a moment to work into the brain. I guess that sets the hook even faster.
In many ways, this reminds me a lot of the Meadows, a band that’s more on the rootsy AOR side of things. Both bands have a laid back feel that seems counterintuitive. And both bands are impossible to put away. The music is far too insistent to sit on the shelf.
There’s nothing particularly distinctive about the sound. That’s part of the deception, I guess, as it might make some folks dismiss the band. But just as you might be ready to ask, “What’s so special about this?,” your brain won’t allow you to switch out the disc. Turns out there’s lots of special going on.
I dunno. Sometimes the good stuff has a mundane window dressing. Ex Norwegian makes some fine music. And that’s the bottom line for me.
THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH
Happy semi-political indie rock with a modern Beatlesque/Euro vibe akin to The Killers and Shins makes Ex Norwegian’s “Standby” a repeat customer in my mp3 player. Seriously, for a debut, Ex Norwegian has created a stellar disc. With their name taken from a Monty Python episode, and kudos for that, you would think dry, witty humor emanating from the disc. Tongue in cheek sensibility exists, but the quality of production and great hooks takes it over the edge.
Hailing from Miami Beach, FL, this band sounds every way like a veteran outfit. Together since 2008, they have performed in the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, toured the east coast, appeared on Sky News, and NBC’s South Florida Today show. When I say veteran, confident from a veteran viewpoint is what the disc from start to finish is all about. There is not one stinker in the batch.
If I have one complaint, it’s that it ends too quickly. Most of the songs are under the three-minute range and nothing over 3:17. Like a roller coaster, it’s a thrill ride though. Standout songs are “Something Unreal,” “Fresh Pit,” “Sudeki Lover,” and “Dance Trance Pants,” though the rest play consistently like a well-oiled machine.
WE HEART MUSIC
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