Residing in Chicago’s vivacious yet intimidating cityscape, is the dynamic trio North by North. The band fuses 70’s glittering psychedelia and its altering soundscape within the murky terrain of lo-fi garage rock, to bring us their first release Something Wicked. Whether via vinyl or digital download, the first thing that garners your attention on the album (before you even hit play) is the captivating cover artwork by vocalist/guitarist Nate Girard. Based off the peculiar yet interesting art, I was nervous North by North would be just another over-thought out, outlandish avant-garde band. Thankfully, Something Wicked was approachable while still being relatively original but more importantly, all eighteen tracks (yes, eighteen) were beyond riveting.
The album immediately abandons us in a labyrinth of haunting whispers on the introductory track “Run.” A light soon shimmers within the darkness as “Burn It Down” throttles into its energetic and enslaving driving hook with fuzzy guitar work that would make a wooly mammoth blush. The kinetic onslaught continues with the garage grooves of “Her Name is Vengeance” pummeling us into submission. Lead singer and guitarist Nate Girard has definitely mastered his craft by assimilating his shrill rambles for compelling story-telling in a methodical mess of influences and catchy hooks. An easy comparison would be The White Stripes’ fellow melodic wizard Jack White with the shriek vocal styling of Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother. “Creature Comforts” once again showcases Girard’s rants and vibrant guitar work though the pace is calculating, thanks to the generous helping of keyboard sprawls by Kendra Black. When highlighted throughout Something Wicked, such as “Animals on the Run,” Black’s keyboards have a flamboyant tendency to set pace and jaunt a track from its sludgy confines to a ravishing sound. “Soft Soul” berates the listener with a cascading chorus of thundering guitar riffs and drum bass pedals as a soulful serenade soars over the grim refrain. The track’s verses tip toe on an off-beat framework but throughout, the rhythm pounces fluidly on each diverse segment. The final track “The Terror” seems to incorporate every trick under North by North’s sleeve and then some. The album’s outro even sustains a complimentary horn section, as each interlude induces spaghetti western apparitions as Something Wicked finally fades to black.
Something Wicked is certainly raw in spots but is an immensely enlightening listen that only gets better with each spin as you dissect the layers. Beyond North by North’s bold ability to engineer enduring songs that stay firmly wedged in your brain, the production value is stellar. The meticulous studio work truly transforms this traditionally bare-bones sound to a boisterous arena level. This trio sounds like an orchestra as each throbbing guitar strum, jovial keyboard thud and drum snare wallop is amplified and saturate any possibly noticeable instrumental gap. Lastly, do not be afraid to turn this album up. The audio clarity and richness is oddly enhanced as the dial turns, another example of savvy studio work. Chicago’s North by North is a curious creature and I’m intrigued to see it evolve in the years to come.