FRESH WAX: Nobra Noma, MTN ISL

Nobra Noma - Brainstorm

NOBRA NOMA
Brainstorm
[Self-released, 2014]

★★★☆☆

Purchase This Album:
Bandcamp

Up until now, I’ve examined each of Nobra Noma’s three EPs as a collection of individual singles rather than as a set of songs meant to be consumed as a cohesive whole. A lot of that has to do with the way I’ve been operating the blog over the past couple of years, devoting greater attention to posting track write-ups and band updates than record reviews. But you can also blame some of it on the way frontman Michael Meadows, a.k.a. Michael Jordan, and company are able to coax dreamy pop gems out of their increasingly ambitious psychedelic expeditions. Which is to say the band knows a thing or two about hooks and how to string them together in interesting and oftentimes unexpected ways.

On Brainstorm, however, the emphasis seems to be on polishing and refinement rather than pushing new boundaries. Which is just fine by me. Jordan is blessed with an innate pop sensibility and part of the joy of listening to his music is waiting for that subtle transition, that tiny melodic shift that will tie everything neatly together. You expect songs like the breezy opener “Waiting for the Sun” and its firmer paced follow-up “Slow Road” to cast you into a swirling haze of summertime bliss. But it’s the way Jordan’s diffused, dreamy vocals ride shotgun alongside the band’s euphoric grooves and the way he keeps angling for the perfect unsuspected melody to keep the tracks from succumbing to the predictable lure of Beatles worship. And yet, while, yes, the guitars shimmer warmly and the harmonies aim towards luscious, no one is unleashing their inner astral traveler here. The music here is less psychedelic than I imagined and when the group does try to go dashing off into the cosmos like on the tedious “I.Can.See,” they have a tendency to linger too long in the void.

Maybe it’s just winter talking, but this is a record that seems to triumph most when it remains earthbound with a cocktail in hand, staring contemplatively at a length of white sand beach. There’s no denying the band has a knack for writing warm, windswept songs that are as thoughtful as they are pleasant. But the question of whether or not Nobra Noma can rise above a sea of acts with similar aesthetics, however, remains to be seen. Brainstorm has some stellar tracks, and all the right pieces appear to be set in place. But a cohesive whole, unfortunately, it is not.

More Info:
Bandcamp: www.nobranoma.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NobraNoma

MTN ISL - God Become Animal
MTN ISL
God Become Animal
[Muckman Records, 2013]

★★★★☆

Purchase This Album:
Bandcamp

You know what was missing from the ’90s resurgence that helped make up the 2012 and 2013 zeitgeist? How about some genuine hardcore tension-and-release? How about some jagged riffs and razor blade guitars that cut fast and deep? How about some raw, mathy shit that isn’t buried in atmospherics? Seriously, fuck that soft grunge bullshit. Give me dirty, visceral six-strong bloodletting and cathartic scream-sung vocals and you can keep your by-the-numbers fuzz rock retreads, mmmkay?

MTN ISL know what I’m talking about. The band’s debut EP, God Become Animal, is a seething mass of lacerating grooves and interlocking rhythms that’s equal parts wiry Midwestern math rock and classic Dischord era audio abuse. Open salvo “Super Place” is a ragged stomper paced by dissonant guitar chords and blistering stop-start dynamics, and things just continue to get better from there. “Hacer” is the most melodic and accessible of the EP’s six tracks, but it’s no less uncompromising or ferocious, moving nimbly from the spare and skeletal intro to the grinding verses, which somehow conspire to land you in the middle of a feral slough before it’s all said and done. Meanwhile, the one-two punch of “Dinner Planet” and “Snake Mansion” keeps the pincers clamped tight, locking the listener in a series of tightly-wound rhythms and nervy tempo shifts before the EP closer — appropriately titled “Gutshot” — levels the hammer down once more.

Recorded by Hawks and Wymyns Prysyn guitarist Andrew Wiggins (who himself is no stranger to swimming in these churning, blood and bile-stained waters), the down and dirty production eschews any frills for a leaner approach that puts greater emphasis on the band’s in-studio performance and the unity of the individual players. This is critical because, in truth, there is no single riff, drum fill or vocal scream that really stands out on God Become Animal. It’s the interaction between these disparate elements, the thoughtful interrelation between varying sounds, rhythms and textures, that drives these songs relentlessly forward.

You want to pretend the ’90s are back, fine. But let’s not leave out the ugly, discordant rage and dark unease that made so much of the music from that era great. MTN ISL haven’t forgotten, and they’re doing everything in their power to bring it back with a vengeance.

MTN ISL will perform tomorrow night, January 16, at Star Bar in support of Big Jesus. Fellow locals Fairlane open the show. Doors open at 9pm. Admission is FREE.

More Info:
Bandcamp: www.mtnisl.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MTNISL