EX NORWEGIAN – On The Sidelines: The Albums 2015-2017

Dippy 2015-2017 / Think Like A Key 2022

Proving the consistency of their existence, indie melodicists from Florida embrace the band’s exuberant midlife crisis.

On The Sidelines

Those who refer to The Free Encyclopedia as their source of information may assume that this American ensemble ceased to issue records back in 2014, yet rest assured: Roger Houdaille and Michelle Grand see no reason to stop, as their 2022’s opus “Spook Du Jour” seems to suggest, except for the case when there’s a need to cast a glance over the collective shoulder. Much more than a simple look into the past, “On The Sidelines” is as panoramic as a gaze provided by peripheral vision should be, not only spreading over two discs the three platters the group put out right after somebody decided not to update the Wiki page anymore but also drawing on the stash of previously unheard tracks from the same period. Unheard both in terms of entire and partial release, because, augmented with numbers which have never saw the light of day before, two of the albums on display have been given a proper remix to reveal important nuances.

Effervescent opener “It’s A Game” – its different, albeit equally arresting, sonic layout closes this offering – is a key to understanding the band’s approach to a song as well as the gist of 2015’s “Pure Gold” where a few of Houdaille’s perky, punchy originals are masterfully woven into the context of obscure, yet brilliantly reimagined, covers. As a result, the titular cut of the current CD-set and the record per se proudly stand their ground alongside lesser known classics from prominent musicians, including the newly acoustically scintillated “Keep Under Cover” by Paul McCartney and the freshly electrified “Cyclone” by Melanie. Alternately, Roger’s jangly and acid-seared guitars as easily serve up riffs on the psychedelic likes of TINTERN ABBEY’s “Beeside” as they opt for strum on such pop-candies as AMON DÜÜL II’s “Trap” – one of the pieces that were laid down after the album was presented to the public to be dusted off now.

Things became significantly darker on its rather short follow-up “Glazer/Hazerr” in 2016, as the team attempted to harness their concert feel, fueled aurally by Fernando Perdomo’s drums, in the studio and flown in a smattering of compositions from Houdaille’s side project PLASTIC MACCA – whose versions are appended here for a fuller picture as are a couple of radio performances – which got fleshed out with deeper-drilling tunes. This is why the boisterous, though slightly pessimistic, “Life” and the retro-murky “Sensation” allow Roger’s vocal lines, drenched in sweet drone, shine as brightly as Michelle’s voice would on the almost trip-hoppy, throbbing, riot-grrrl-influenced “Father Goose” but turn triumphant on “Pocket Dancing” and irresistibly alluring on “Modern Art Brigade”: an epitome of the American ensemble’s love for classic British rock tropes. As the raga-tinged, rainbow-colored “Quite Contrary” and nigh-on orchestral, uplifting “Song Of Many” add final touches to the platter, the listener mood will change for the better, thus hardly reflecting the collective’s affairs.

Arriving after the full-length “Tekstet (Subtitled)” in 2017, a single that paired the infectiously innocent ’60s pastiche of “All Hips No Waists” with percussive and sparkling, synthesizer-stricken “Funny Zipper” remains the sole disc-stored vestige of the group’s shelved album which preceded it but, appearing here for the first time, the Floridians’ nearly shoegaze reading of Ed Hale’s “Never Let Me Go Again” and their own sharply-edged mini-epic “Up Your Sleeve” show what could have been if Houdaille’s time machine was set up according to prog manuals. Instead, he chose the cold anthemic passages of “Wasteland” – wrapping instrumental thunder in a haze and instilling singing with angst – and for the disco groove of “Fearless” just to juxtapose these and the gloomy, grimy “Whose Motion” until the garagey “Dead Romance” strips the grit and prepares one’s ears for “June Flakes” and “O Simone” that accumulate existential joys and lets Ms. Grand get away with this liberty. Yet while the festive “Any Old Time” is linked to the lysergic rhythm-and-blues of “F’nostalgia” and while there are other thematical threads, the record’s flow is somewhat disjointed, the surrealistic “It’s All Panda” not even trying to fit in – unlike the rumbling “Gemmas” that brings the bumpy ride to a close – whereas the stomping out-take “Missing Doses” might make a finer end to the platter.

However, finer end might have undermined the collection’s goal: to pinpoint things in flux, en route to the future. As it is, it’s close to being perfect.


December 31, 2022

Category(s): Reissues
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