North End: Alpha State (AM 800 Sound, 2017)
North End is Russ Daniels (guitar), Marcus Rodriguez (bass), Kevin Burk (drums), and Peter Willis (guitar). They are a post-rock band hailing from West Chester, Pennsylvania. The band was started in 2008 and their first album, In Through the Musical Earth, was released back in 2009 with three other intervening albums. Alpha State is their fifth and their first on the collective label AM800SOUND. Alpha State was three years of preparation, writing, and recording with band members experiencing many personal changes along the way. Distance was one of the factors, which many bands nowadays seem to deal with, as band mates relocate to other locations. Despite the distance, or perhaps because of the various locations and inspirations, North End have produced nine songs that are evocative, emotive, and draw the listener into a larger storyscape. They slide from post-rock forms to almost math-rock intricacies throughout the album.
Alpha State begins with “Middle America” and the band wastes no time at showing off their chops. Burk’s percussion is intricate and the time changes interesting without being overwhelming or feeling unnecessary. The drums here are used as a true instrument and not simply to keep time. The guitars are in constant conversation with one another, keeping melodies in a tête-à-tête as timing changes mark the variety of choices and line changes in the overall musical soundscape. There is a math-rock feel here, with the precision and expressiveness communicating a vast expanse of open plains. “Petaluma” follows and was their first single released from the album. It is expressive and begins with an aggressive energy right from the first note. The guitar tones here are animated and bright. There are points where the guitar plays a more time oriented roll while others play out melodies in response. Rodriguez’ bass work here is exceptional given the time changes this band goes through during a song.
“Mountain Standard” is a brief track that begins with bright guitars and an almost jazz style percussion. The guitars move into an almost melancholy tone as they bounce back and forth with bass filling in the gaps. It’s a beautifully done brief arrangement with vivid accents throughout. “Silent Rehearsal” is anything but silent. It’s explosive with staccato guitar and bass over aggressive drums. There is this great moment at around 2:00 when the band slows down and enters these punctuated moments. It’s a brilliant moment of time change that leads into this guitar only section, with drums and bass eventually coming in and out of the mix. “Brother Mouzone” has a tom-heavy intro with reverb-heavy guitars that move into another section where the guitars begin to play off one another in very different ways. About 1:00 in, these bright guitar tones pick up the listener and the bass really becomes expressive.
The sixth song on Alpha State is its titular track. It is a hopeful piece with bright tones, energetic drums with emphases on cymbals to compliment the lighter feel of the composition, and the melodic choices here are just lovely. “New Harbor” invites the listener in with quiet guitar which eventually is joined by cymbals and a counterpoint guitar. This song is patient and has a very nice build to it, moving toward an explosive release about half way through, then a breathing, quiet moment, then a return to a staccato type feel. “Emergence” does not let up on the more aggressive drum work that is found in “New Harbor”. There is prominent bass work here is as well with Rodriguez really shining. Willis and Daniels not only have these wonderful dual guitar moments like on prior songs but do so with different types of phrasings and some almost percussive moments. They even enter into a more direct conversation across from the drums and bass at these wonderfully expressive moments in the composition. “Imperial” is the finale to the album, with fiery drums kicking off the track. That almost math-rock feel returns here right from the first note. There is a delightfully patient and quiet middle section that really is mellow, highlighting Burk’s intricate drum work under sparse guitars. As “Imperial” begins to quiet down, the sounds of rain come into the speakers and the rain fades.
Alpha State is a demonstration of the North End’s maturity. Despite the obstacles and changes in each individual band member’s life, it’s clear the distance didn’t make any of the quality suffer. Daniels, Rodriguez, Burk, and Willis do not simply make up a rock band but each are clearly musicians, in the very technical sense of the term, in their own right. When the members of North End are brought together, something magical occurs and Alpha State is a product of that magic.
Alpha State will be released on January 10th on vinyl and digital download.
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