Reviews

Fall Back Open

Author: Brian Howe
07/19/2004 | Pitchfork Media | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
Right now, someone is exclaiming, "Oh, Now It'sOverhead!" More than a few people have told me they thought it was "Now It's Overheard," and one friend said he always heard it as "Now It's Over, Ed". The latter would be somewhat appropriate, considering that Now It's Overhead's debut was song cycle tracing a romance's arc from initial spark to luminous apogee to guttering finale. But as a bandname, it would have been profoundly stupid. And Andy Lemaster's name isn't Ed. It's Andy.

Now It's Overheard would be a passable bandname, but one with little logical currency. Then again, Now It's Overhead doesn't make much sense, either. Both do evoke a vague impression of something just out of reach, or placed at a certain remove; an abstraction too large (although "large" is a sort of inappropriate term to append to an abstraction) to be apprehended except by its absence. Certainly there is no spark of recognition upon finding out it's "head," not "heard" (like, "Why is Hendrix saying to excuse him while he kisses this guy? Oh, sky! Sky!").

Even if the precise mechanics of Now It's Overhead's music are as enigmatic and slippery as the name, the pleasures it yields are much more concrete. The debut was easy enough to describe as Engine Down covering Depeche Mode (or the inverse, if you like), and while this sophomore release retains its superficial characteristics, it's more difficult to accurately triangulate among musical reference points. A sort of sculpted synth-pop composed of impossible shapes that cohere into perfectly smooth and easy-to-swallow lozenges, it's a rare music that sounds as if it were extremely complicated and difficult to construct, yet seems remarkably simple and immediate upon completion

Like the band's debut, Fall Back Open is a cousin to albums by XTC and The Flaming Lips, where production techniques aren't a medium for the music so much as an integral part of it-- not a bolstering agent but something inextricable from the whole. Which isn't surprising, considering that band leader Andy Lemaster, who runs the increasingly sought-after Athens studio Chase Park Transduction, is establishing himself as an enfant terrible of production and proving himself capable of creating huge, intricately textured spaces for songs to reside.

Fall Back Open is more reminiscent of the arid, slow-burning side of the debut ("With a Subtle Look" comes to mind) than its upbeat fare, a reverb-drenched cruise missile flying in relentless slow-motion, like Calla with a pulse and a cherubic blond singer who could have gone boy-band as easily as indie-land. "Wait in a Line" rolls over the windshield like reflected streetlights, nightclub-bound and smelling of sex, a feverish nightlife anthem with crisply syncopated drum patterns and sultry lap steel weaving through the ever-present reverb cascading down in sheets. "Surrender", meanwhile, is a sweltering torch song of exponentially intensifying guitar glissandos and unfettered angst.

If a Georgia boy on the usually Nebraska-centric Saddle Creek strikes you as odd, note that Lemaster is a veteran of Bright Eyes's backing band, and that Now It's Overhead includes both members of Azure Ray-- and those aren't the only names checking in on Now It's Overhead's sophomore outing: Conor Oberst offers backup vocals on the title track, a vaulted echo chamber with so much reverb you almost watch it carom back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match. And Michael Stipe even checks in to sing backup on "Antidote", his composed mid-range ballasting Lemaster's febrile chorus to good effect.

It should be said that the overall sameness of Fall Back Open's tempo and atmosphere may wind up truncating its reply value. And I'm still not sure what, exactly, is overhead. Whatever it is, though, its impact can only be enhanced by the fact that you can't look at it straight on, only perceiving red and gray vestiges of movement in your peripheral field.
Fall Back Open

Fall Back Open

CD / MP3




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Fall Back Open

Fall Back Open

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