Ex-Norwegian will be having a CD Release party June 19th at Sweat Records (5505 NE 2nd Ave)
There are few better indicators to the passing of time than the return of a trend. It’s been a short time coming, but since it seems like 80’s revival is entering it’s awkward phase (i.e. the return of fat girls in spandex and ultra high waisted jeans), it’s inevitable that the 90’s will soon be back.
The 90’s represented the amazingly fast cycle of major record labels attempting to hijack underground music (early 90s), and getting it so completely wrong that, I would argue, it is now putting them out of business.
While the dive into indie music may have destroyed labels, it did lead to a boon in the underground, bringing along smart and heartfelt music like Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring, Christie Front Drive, The Get Up Kids, and the growth of genres like lo-fi, emo, indie folk, shoegaze, and a rainbow of various underground sounds.
If the 60’s were the root of establishing American rock music, the 90’s were the explosion of it.
I write so fondly of the 90’s because living in Miami we are fortunate to be a city the lives in the front of trends. While other cities are inundated with bands that sound like they are trying their hardest to copy 93.1 Rock (just cross our northern county border), or, at best, sound like The Killers and Kings of Leon, we are fortunate to be the home of a trend forward band like Ex-Norwegian, who are masterfully grabbing hold of that 90’s sound and making it their own.
Last year Ex-Norwegian released their first album, Standby, to huge critical acclaim. A visit over to the press section on their website shows just how much they’ve been covered over the past year.
A lot of the attention was focused on their viral single, Something Unreal, a song so perfectly indie it couldn’t help but be found out by radio stations and music fans.
Coming off last year’s success Ex-Norwegian releases their second effort Sketch, a 10-song LP, on June 22.
Through first listen, the album screams that underground 90’s sound, particularly as a combination of a shoegaze sound with an emo feel; like a cross-pollination of Autolux and Sunny Day Real Estate.
The songs creep and crawl over a variety of themes, but Ex-Norwegian’s libertarian beliefs are felt across the album. Such as the second track Smashing Time, which ironically urges people to live it up until the hammer comes crashing down, which can be taken as either the impending great war or dictator (as outlined in FA Hayek’s Road to Serfdom), or the collapse of the United States’ economic viability.
My favorite line comes from Upper Hand, a hollowing and slow-paced song with another libertarian theme of the “power elite”. Halfway through the song, lead singer Roger Houdaille sings, “left, right, then wrong.” Take that two party system!
I truthfully wish I had more time to listen to the album so that I can get a better grasp of the lyrics. As opposed to shallower musicians, Ex Norwegian’s songs are formed in part imagery, part allegory, part straight-forward lyrics, and part metaphor. I probably need at month of listening to get the gist of their meaning — and I mean that in the best way possible (don’t be afraid to use your brains kids).
There were several other highlights to the album, such as Sky Diving and Turn Left, both of which feel similar to two of my favorite bands: Weezer and Jets to Brazil. In the middle of Turn Left, it falls into an organ part that flirts with something similar to King Crimson.
But for all the little things there are to love about Sketch something just doesn’t feel right, and it’s driving me crazy trying to put my finger on it, especially because I can fully admit that this is a great album and I’m just not getting it.
Listening all the way through there definitely is a slow pace to it, which plays into the 90’s feel of it, so maybe that’s not it. A lot of the songs are sung really straight forward and tend to drone, but then again, that’s the shoegaze influence, so maybe that’s not it either. Maybe it is the complicated lyrics, but then again, I think that’s a good thing.
Comparing this album to a couple of songs on their last album a couple of things stick out. There isn’t a single song on Sketch that matches the energy of Something Unreal. Whether it’s the pop vibe or the pace, Sketch just isn’t able to match. Then listening to Sudeki Lover, a slower paced song similar to the songs on Sketch, somehow Sketch doesn’t match the heartfelt and emotional feeling of that song.
Maybe I’m just being overcritical or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my opinion, but don’t be mislead, Ex Norwegian is a band whose music should be heard. While it may seem like I’m not giving Sketch a glowing review, I think it’s more like a group of friend’s discussing the different albums of their favorite band, and Sketch may not be my favorite but I’m fairly confident I’m going to be in the minority.