All too often music bloggers are accused of being music snobs. And to a large extent that accusation is perfectly reasonable. There’s something somewhat audacious about endlessly recommending music, as if we are the ones in the know and it’s equally as audacious to presume that anyone wants to listen to our never-ending suggestions. How dare we assume that you actually care about our opinions. This snobbishness can cause a music blog to lean ever-further to the left, hunting out music that wears it’s ‘Alternative’ labels with pride. As we lurk in the deep dark underground our recommendations avoid the daylight; a space occupied by major labels and obvious, glossy pop music. However, this isn’t the entire story. We may well be self-confessed music snobs – you’re missing out if you don’t enjoy even a tiny spot of browsing music from alternative bloggers, such as the other-worldly 20 Jazz Funk Greats or the Berlin-cool of the No Fear Of Pop blogs – but we’re also comfortable scanning the major label pop queens upon the pages of Pop Justice, or the yet-to-be-signed-to-major-label artists that breed upon the Breaking More Waves blog. We are happy to switch our tastes between overground and underground in the click of a mouse button, so when we tell you that today’s recommendation sound unashamedly like the 2005 version of The Killers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our snobbishness has completely snapped off. Well, not quite, as to dismiss this band is as foolish as to dismiss us as music snobs.
As we turn our gaze to next year there are a handful of bands screaming out for attention. NO are a band from Echo Park, Los Angeles, gearing up for a rather big 2013, and everything about them should have our snob alarms giving us tinnitus. Firstly, that band moniker is a rather silly idea. It’s terrible for search engine optimization and surely any big record label executive would be strongly advising a change. Then again, history can bring up bands such as Yes, or more recently with the equally-reduced but very successful, Fun. However, another frustration with this West Coast five-piece is that they play rather obvious, over-sized, American indie rock, of a kind that was mostly popular in the middle of the last decade. As we mentioned, they are like The Killers, but in reality they’re like a sugar-free version of the Las Vegas band, although in fairness that sounds a lot healthier. And that’s basically the key to this. They’ve trimmed the excess fat off of this genre. It’s not that they’re minimal or simple, quite the opposite – they’re sound is enormous on occasion – but although they walk the line between tacky and clever, they never fall the wrong side. By avoiding the brashness and the posturing that this rocking pop music can sometimes deliver they’ve played an almost perfect hand.
They have an instant appeal and a list of radio-friendly singles on their 2012 EP, Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Here Forever, which arrived this month and is still available for a free download upon their site. Handing it out for the price of an email is a welcomed, brave move, as we would imagine that they could sell their music in big numbers, seeing as they will surely be enjoyed by the bigger sections of people that still buy music, from young teenagers to mums. Fortunately these are markets that don’t set, or particularly follow, the freshest of trends, so the fact that NO seem set in 2005 is somewhat side-stepped. Radio One and the rest of the traditional media will find lots of comfortable ground here, suggesting that they’ll leapfrog the usual need for underground traction. With obvious comparisons to The Killers, Coldplay, Editors and any other giant, chorus-fuelled pop rockers from the last ten years, they’re bound for big things, but they’re not relying on the context that a few powerful world champions can bring, as they’re also working the smaller stages, setting out on a UK-wide tour throughout November, (including our home-town of Brighton on the 30th). We suggest catching them live now, before they reach the stadiums that they’re surely destined for.
So what of the actual music? Well, let’s start with The Long Haul, which is the kind of song that has no surprises. It’s a journey in which you know exactly what is around each corner, reminiscent of Mmm Mmm Mmm by The Crash Test Dummies, (slightly ironic when you see the subjects of their latest video). You can guess when the chorus is coming in and entirely sing along during a second listen, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want a broad and instant appeal. There’s A Glow follows a similar path, with the kind of predictable rock pop that never offends, but it comfortably nestles inside your ears with consummate ease. As we said, we really shouldn’t like this, but then we did always have a soft spot for the basics – with a clear selection of Bruce Springsteen in our music library. This is the kind of excellent song-writing that had us tipping the Canadian band Bravestation a couple of years ago, who also channelled The Killers, but whom also maintained an important edge. Big Waves is another tune that connects the dots between The National and the We Are Augustines, with simplicity, purpose and heart. Another Life couldn’t be more Killers if it tried, so much so that it has you checking the credits for Brandon Flowers, but at least it sounds like the missing track off of Hot Fuss, rather than their softer later albums.
However, it’s with a couple of other songs that we feel they hold their most magical moments. Coming Down introduces a sharper edge, with synths that either beam like lasers or pop like bubbles. The vocals are toned down and called out at you as if coming through like thoughts from inside your head. It’s like they’re trying less hard and taking more time over the song’s construction. The posturing and masculine strength is weakened and their fragility makes their music all the better. The song-craft is finally handled with care. The melodies remain and the scale is still wide open, but it’s slimmer and smarter. It’s more Andy You’re A Star, rather than the brash Mr Brightside. Stay With Me comes complete with one of the best love stories ever put to a music video (see it below), and is another example of them finding their magic when they stop looking so hard. By driving slower and winding up the windows you can hear what it was they were saying all along. The styled vocals breath lightly and lift you up and down as the song patiently clicks from one section of the song to the next. Even though the lyrics seem somewhat un-original, as (ex-Steriogram founder), Brad Carter sings “Stay with me, we were never meant to be apart“, it always feels cinematic and touching. With this song they’ve managed the scale, particularly with the slow-build, crescendo finish, but they’ve lost none of their charm on the way. They once again hold onto your hand but this time they never let go. Anyone with a heart will feel this song.
The real test for them will come in 2013 as they gear up for their début album. Will they be able to leap the broad gap between the influential taste-makers and the mass market? You could argue they’re already well on their way into into mainstream coverage, with major players such as NME, Zane Lowe and even Time Magazine backing them. Some have already suggested that 2013 is all set to see the return of the guitar, but if that doesn’t materialise this band could be fighting against a tide that’s going in the opposite direction. Will they develop the tenderness and control the scale, and if so, will they be loved by everyone? History tells us that there aren’t many bands that can write songs fit for stadiums and still maintain a sharp edge, so are they aiming too high? If The Recommender can successfully appeal to everyone, so long as they like music, then why can’t the bands too? All are very difficult questions. Only time will tell, but for sure this is a band that’s full of promise and breathing life into an otherwise dated formula. Watching their ascent, as well as listening to their eventual album, is already lining up as one of 2013′s exciting prospects. Some will say that by trying to please all of the people, all of the time, you end up pleasing nobody, but if that were really true then you’d never fill stadiums and we believe that this band may just have discovered the secret formula. (MB)
NO – STAY WITH ME
NO – COMING DOWN