North Of America

These Songs Are Cursed

North Of America - These Songs Are Cursed ©1999 Matlock Records
1. Watch The Light Bend
2. Central Port Of Equal Times
3. Soft Geometry
4. Built Sought Destination
5. Rough Draft Korea
6. No Such Want Of Landmarks
7. What A Melee
8. Extent Of The Apse Outstretched
9. Wall Monument
10. Translate Citrus Into Fruit
11. Route Of Sorts
12. Speech Is An Experiment
13. Italics Showing Thoughts
14. Southwesterlies To Southwesterly
15. Uppsala, Uppsala
16. The Path
17. Good Evil, Not Bad Evil

Although I will boldly say that North of America are the second best band from Eastern Canada, I am also prepared to say that they're a pretty typical indie rock band. That is to say, they employ some familiar (arguably shopworn) conventions, but they happen to employ them unusually well.

At its best, These Songs Are Cursed combines the deliberate melodicism of Jawbox with the noisy and the careful brackishness characterizing many a vital and ass-kicking "math rock" bands currently bubbling underneath the stagnant indie rock status-quo. North of America,like the aforementioned bands, uses little or no distortion, composes abrasive, technical songs in ordinary time-signatures, and locates catchy undercurrents all over the place. Think: the smart-alecky zinging quirk of Shellac with the artsy ivories of Pavement. Not total, or even partial discord, but a fine, balance of control and loss thereof. The first two songs "Central Port of Equal Times" and "Soft Geometry" are noisy suckers, but will of course, given half a chance, insidiously worm their way into your frontal lobe. But it's the more restrained stuff like "Wall Monument" (a song about, well, a wall monument) and "Rough Draft Korea" (with truly cool use of slide-guitar) where we get both the muscle and the melody of North of America.

In the cliche column, we have the vocals. Every song (or seemingly) on These Songs Are Cursed has some degree of the out-of-key. This is indie rock after all, and you're supposed to like the wacky vocals with some kind of tongue-in-cheek irony (nudge,nudge.) Or, maybe it's just annoying. Or, maybe, like a death metal fan, you grow to like the wacky vocals. I will say that, to their credit, they've not pitched face forward completely, as there are plenty of fun, memorable, vocal phrasings, and they're not, all told, atrocious. But there they are. Another indie hallmark I will broach will a question: are North of America clever - or - do North of America just want us to believe they're clever? That might depend on whether or not you find references to Senecans, atolls, and daguerreotypes amusing or pretentious.

Although I have yet to see this band live, I have read and been told personally to my own astonishment that the four members write and sing their own songs and typically swap instruments on stage. That fact isn't so much as astonishing (although it is unsual and interesting) as the fact that I'd been listening to this album for months without being privy to four distinct voices. So, apparently they all sing somewhat off key, they all write tricky, alternately melodic and discordant structures, and they all write lyrics like "mimetic times that signify the signs/obstruct the structure that occupies our time" and "every perfect turn of phrase turns from an ink line into a battle sign/language is an exposť speech is an experiment". Either the cohesiveness is remarkable, or I'm being tricked. Both are admirable feats.

When not the drummer/guitarist/vocalist of North of America, Michael Catano plants himself in front of Canada's most exciting, potent, and interesting punk rock band, The Plan. A fan of the latter would no doubt appreciate the former, so too, for that matter, would a fan of Fugazi, Braid, Television or Pavement.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 06/2001

Back to top 

The Sepultura

North Of America - The Sepultura ©2000 Kingdom Of God
1. Now You've Got Your Doctorate Don't Forget To Doctor It
2. That's A Convincing Argument, Michael
3. Destroy Tambourine
4. Back Stabbath
5. Like Flint
6. Font Crimes

Inexplicably available only on vinyl at this point (though Progeria Records in New York is apparently planning to remedy this shortly for everyone who threw out their turn-tables in the 80s), The Sepultura is a worthwhile sampling of North of America's highly accomplished brand of indie/math rock for those who missed out the first few times.

Essentially finding the band between their Pavement-jangly rock phase and the sort of Archers of Loaf-Polvo mania that would seize them on their remarkably cohesive and consistent full-length follow-up, This Is Dance Floor Numerology (that, I would also add, saw the band uncover some other, more unlikely influences such as Nomeansno and Modest Mouse), The Sepultura explores the familiar terrain of tricky indie rock songs high on odd time-signatures, low on distortion, and exploring lots of guileful guitar and vocal-trade-off techniques.

Biggest surprise here would be drummer Catano's laidback nine-minute prog-like rock masterpiece, and one of the band's finest moments, "Font Crimes", in which he wraps his vocal chords around lyrics like "helvetically through all the lines we appendicized in threes and force." Ambition, I say! A nice way to close out another release of brash, intelligent rock music.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 06/2002

Back to top 

This Is Dance Floor Numerology

North Of America - This Is Dance Floor Numerology ©2001 Progeria Records
1. Let's On
2. Ship And Captain
3. And They All Thought Canada
4. Xrxxrxrxr
5. Fuck (Repeating)
6. Revolt On(=/)Revolution
7. Minus Sign
8. Yes, This Is A Rant
9. Every Mirror We Broke Was A Black Cat
10. Fin To Fin
11. Pedigree Aside

Before I get to the crux of North of America's latest, and debut full-length for Progeria Records in New York, I feel obliged to make space for the utterly cute artwork adorning This Is Dance Floor Numerology. Resembling slightly a Sergio Aragones cartoon with a Victorian bent, the five-panel sketch depicts a fellow leisurely strolling beside a building as his umbrella is snatched from his hands by a man in an open window. The offender then passes the umbrella into the hands of another man in the window above him, who in turn passes it on to yet another man on the roof. As the umbrella is planted in the chimney that presumably accomodates the men in both windows (as well as the man on the roof) the original owner of the umbrella, having dropped his coat and hat onto the sidewalk, shakes his fists with fury at the others, sitting leisurely back, smoking their pipes and reading their newspapers.

Just as any (probably inappropriate) communitarian interpretations of said artwork might inspire scorn in the reader, so to will my conclusion to finally file North of America into the progressive punk column. I can already hear howls of derision from the gallery: coming from an indie rock scene (that is, the foul Halifax scene), the members have indie rock pedigrees, tend to get attention in indie rock circles, play on an indie rock label with indie rock peers and, by most accounts, have some characteristics we might say are de rigueur of indie rock . To the skeptical I would say that some of these, at any rate, are less true now than when North of America released Elements of an Incomplete Map some years ago.

For example, I can no longer complain about bothersome Pavement-inflected vocals for two good reasons. First, such a minor, silly quibble on Dance Floor would be buried under a veritable avalanche of wild creativity. It would be like a rich man complaining about taxes. And second, no less importantly, the vocals on Dance Floor are exactly agreeable. (Note the conditional tense of the first reason.) North of America now summons mid-80s Nomeansno with some trickier and more layered guitarwork, hovering somewhere around Sex Mad or Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed-era without a proclivity for the sprawling. (And not only that, vocally the guys in North of America actually remind me John and Andy of Nomeanso, and like John and Andy of Nomeansno, I and can't really tell Mark, Mark, Mike, and J. apart either.) Excellent drumming busily frames constantly changing, usually dissonant, frayed guitar riffs, and a quartet of vocalists (that is, each member) shouts his respective lyrics. Before I get carried away, I should avoid falling into a trap describing this stuff: it's not anarchy like Deadguy or Drowningman. It's almost gentlemanly, like Fugazi. It's like indie rock that has been hit with the ambition stick, glazed with innovation, noise, creativity and seriousness. Or, if you will, progressive punk.

Dance Floor is the type of album that rides its own wave of consistency for forty mintes without screaming highs or bilious lows. Notably, catchy numbers, or even songs that surge along mellifluously, are also absent. There is nothing approaching (say) the nine-minute splendor of "Font Crimes" or the pop-bounce of "Built Sought Destination" of several years past. The entire album is written in the arena of the aggressive, and the disjointed; I can not however say angry, because too much fun is seemingly had here. The lyrics, as always, are couched deeply in familiar idioms, namely the band's geeky obsessions with language, writing, and words, with phrases like "processors they got, but they (ain't) got no process," "you can't spell revolution without 'U' and 'I'", "if grammar's a hammer why does subtlety matter?" and by far my favorite, "we fight with our hips and not with our fists."

There is no damn good reason why North of America can't be named among the heavyweights of whatever style they happen to be courting. If you believe in the meaninglessness of genre appellation (it is, more often than not, an ever-changing tableau), than it should suffice to say that Dance Floor will captivate anyone who happens to appreciate challenging and intelligent music.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 06/2001

Back to top