Now Itís Overhead is a succinct three-word sentence,
but it raises one very important question: What is "It"?
The sky, certainly, and its clouds and sun and birds and stars,
but also storm clouds, thunder, unseen pollutants, and the
ineffable enormity of the universe. And not only are all of
these above our heads, but theyíre also overhead, costs we
are compelled to pay in exchange for our rich lives. Put it
all together and thatís "It". And now "Itís"
And "It" is the world of Andy LeMaster,
the songwriting heart and principal creative force behind
Athens, Georgiaís Now Itís Overhead. The debut release from
this band covers a range of sonic and psychological territory
with simple songs that are often cyclical, but never redundant.
Much of the record has a twisted Americana feel, like late-period
Violent Femmes or Camper Van Beethoven without
the goofiness. Or maybe itís the Waterboys. Thereís
also a gothic edge to NIOís music that sometimes reminds one
of Twitch-era Ministry, but with the slightly
jangly feel of the Psychedelic Furs. LeMasterís lyrics
are rich with the imagery and emotion that weíve come to expect
from other Saddle Creek bands, such as Bright Eyes,
Cursive, and Son, Ambulance.
Now Itís Overhead is the first band released by Omahaís Saddle
Creek label that is not native to Nebraska. While all band
members come from the 80s alt-rock mecca of Athens, LeMaster
has strong ties to Omahaís indie king (and Saddle Creek cornerstone),
Conor Oberst. In fact, LeMaster has appeared on almost
every record and tour by Oberstís primary project, Bright
Eyes, performing guitar, bass, percussion, keyboard, vocal,
and engineering duties.
As Bright Eyes is to Oberst, so it seems is Now Itís Overhead
to LeMaster. While there are fantastic contributions from
Azure Ray members Orenda Fisk (bass, keys, trumpets,
vocals) and Maria Taylor (keys and vocals), as well
as from LeMasterís childhood friend, Clay Leverett
(drums and vocals), it is clear that NIO and its creative
output are primarily the progeny of LeMaster himself, who
engineered and produced, wrote all the songs, played most
of the instruments, and created all of the package art for
the record. The record was recorded at Chase Park Transduction,
an Athens studio owned and operated by LeMaster, longtime
Bob Mould collaborator David Barbe, and Glands
bassist Andy Baker, both of whom are credited with
"sound advice" in the liner notes.
Aside from vague comparisons, real similarities between NIO
and other Saddle Creek bands (or any other bands) are hard
to find. All the adjectives in the clips and blurbs in the
press kit seem to miss the mark. Perhaps because the record
covers so much ground, the music of Now Itís Overhead is difficult
to characterize. The prevailing atmosphere of the album is
gloomy and foreboding, but there are also many bright and
hopeful moments. "Blackout Curtain", the albumís
elegiac opener, is a song of innocence and experience that
seems ambivalent about both. One of the more accessible tunes
on the record, "Hi" is anchored by that emasculated-but-infectious
hip-hop beat that lolled behind so many Mancunian singles
of the early 90s. The vocals have a quality that is reminiscent
of early Blur. The haunting "With A Subtle Look"
builds from a barren, reverb-drenched voice-and-percussion
landscape to a soaring climax without ever rising much above
a whisper. "Wonderful Scar" is a sweet 50s ballad
that was involved in a horrible accident, turning it into
a slightly sinister Congo Norvell dirge. The unbelievably
hummable "Goodbye Highway" is a beautifully wistful
tune, barely heard over the clank of glasses and spoons as
the coffeehouse closes. If thereís a candidate for "single"
on this record, itís "Hold Your Spin", with its
inscrutable chorus: Were you born sideways? Did you learn
to rotate and hold your spin? Its bop-bop backing vocals
and spry rhythmic feel make this song an enjoyable--if enigmatic--singalong.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming breadth and ambition of
Now Itís Overhead (the band and the record), the music is
surprisingly sweet and completely unforgettable. The repetitive
structure of the tunes and LeMasterís exceptional ear for
melody conspire to lodge these songs of strength and weakness,
hope and heartbreak in the listenerís head. Happily, the experience
is nothing like having, for example, "Donít Worry Be
Happy" or the hook from "Tomís Diner" stuck
in your head. Musing on one of LeMasterís songs that has fixed
itself in your brain is a bittersweet, melancholy, and strangely
comforting experience, like remembering the almost-forgotten
voice of a loved one or the name of a playground friend you
hadnít thought of in years. Itís complex and beautiful, and
Now Itís Overhead.
- Blackout Curtain
- Whoís Jon
- Hold Your Spin
- 6th Grade Roller
- Wonderful Scar
- With A Subtle Look
- Goodbye Highway
- A Skeleton On Display
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