Reviews

Dark Light Daybreak

Author: Brian Howe
09/25/2006 | Pitchforkmedia.com | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
In spite of Andy LeMaster's penchant for concept albums about break-ups and Conor Oberst-like melodrama, Now It's Overhead is an anomaly in the Saddle Creek stable. Omaha's indie powerhouse was founded (however intuitively) upon the notion that chaotic guitars, raw vocals, and unfettered recordings are the watermarks of authentic emotion. The label has evolved away from its emo-punk roots, but most of its acts still bear some trace of that ideological residue. Azure Ray traffics in pious delicacy, while Two Gallants shreds up rustic twang. Conor Oberst still makes room for accidental notes and off-key vocals amid the increasing polish of his music. The common thread is a tacit belief that a song's impact relies upon the palpable presence of a fallible human behind it: High premiums are placed upon the squeak of calluses on nylon strings, the voice that passionately falters, the ambient chatter of friends gathered in the studio. (As of press time, there is still no accounting for the Faint.)

With his dream-pop project Now It's Overhead, LeMaster turned Saddle Creek's lo-fi bias on its head. Tim Kasher's ruptured howl and sweeping guitarscapes owe an obvious debut to Bono and the Edge; LeMaster seems more interested in U2 producer Steve Lillywhite's expansive, densely stylized armatures. Now It's Overhead's underrated debut, where indie rock and electro-pop tangled in intricate chiaroscuro, had songs that were as pretty as their flamboyant gowns. They failed to surpass it on their sophomore effort, Fall Back Open, which contained plenty of compelling sounds, but nothing as infectious as "Hold Your Spin" or as haunting as "With a Subtle Look". That album's muzziness is dispelled on their third LP, Dark Light Daybreak, an album of austere, messianic indie rock that finds the band leaning harder on emphatic guitars than ever before. As always, Now It's Overhead revels in the seamless artifact, to the point where one starts wishing for seams-- LeMaster's grand gestures veer dangerously close to turgidity at times, just as the album's carefully pruned mien flirts with anonymity.

You can hear echoes of the Flaming Lips' sculpted, spacey rock on Dark Light Daybreak, as well as Spiritualized's womblike enclosures. Individual parts hang in glittering suspension, connected by intricately programmed drum patterns and digital interludes. That the music intends to be monolithic is manifest on tracks like "Let the Sirens Rest", where LeMaster's reedy but resonant voice breaks majestically over a serrated horizon of insistent guitars and pulsating electro. You can hear it on the burred shoegaze of "Estranged", and in the luminous chorus that suddenly beams out from the gusty shadows of "Believe What they Decide". The album's hooks are more memorable than its predecessor's-- "Meaning to Say", "Night Vision", and the title track all revolve around swelling melodies that aren't outshone by their sumptuous appointments. But for an album with such a diverse sound palette, it spends too much time in one mode-- sincere, mid-tempo grandeur-- to be more than another solid, perfectly listenable album from a band that's going to do something truly terrific if their early substance catches up with their refined style.


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