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.