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The Nova Saints

Newfoundland

(Northern Star; US: 31 Oct 2011; UK: 8 Nov 2011)

Strong album from Bristol quintet

Assuming you ever liked shoegaze-y Britpop in the first place, the Nova Saints would like to remind you of why. The Bristol (UK)-based quintet channel all the earnest vocals, twangy guitars, and expansive harmonies of ‘80s and ‘90s bands from the Cure to the Cult to the Stone Roses to Ride, but synthesize it all so effortlessly that the effect is less a pastiche and more of a reinterpretation. In other words, if you liked that stuff back then, you’ll probably love this stuff right now.


Lead track “Sugar Coated” effortlessly melds synth chords, guitar twang, studio effects and Steve Waterhouse’s ragged but affecting vocals into one mid-tempo package that goes down as smooth as a glossy pop nugget should. There are a handful of less-than-memorable tunes on this album, like the tepid whine-fest “What Does It Feel Like” and the guitar-dense but not very interesting “Take It Or Leave It,” but there’s plenty to like too. “Slow Down” is a six-minute epic with meltdown finale section, ringing guitars, and a melody that seems like you’ve been hearing it for years (in a good way). “The Draft” follows immediately after, a scorching rocker that plays balls-out and is as convincingly head-banging as anything by, say, Oasis—which some folks won’t find convincing at all, of course.


And so it goes. The album hops from tune to tune, maintaining a consistent pop-rock sensibility but differing in the particulars. “High Roller” features stripped-down drums-and-bass backing the verses, while “Whirlpool” glides from an acoustic guitar intro to an REM-style waltz dirge—with admittedly poorer lyrics. “When you’re cruel, are you cruel to be kind?” Oh man. Before long, though, we’ve moved on to the abovementioned “Slow Down” with its anthemic chorus and noisy crescendo.


“The Draft” isn’t the only rocker here. The two-minute “I Wouldn’t” crops up later in the album, following a number of less-inspired tunes, plus “Lights,” which sounds uncannily like an outtake from the Cult’s Love album, with its ringing, fuzz-heavy guitars and vocals that can’t quite carry the load that’s asked of them. “Ten Year Silence” is a bit of a snoozer, but album closer “The Last Song” is as notable for its somber moodiness and sudden shifts in dynamics as for its seven-and-a-half-minute running time. Oh and it kind of rocks, too.


Critics will berate the Nova Saints for copying as much as—or more than—they innovate, but that cavil is as irrelevant as, yes, blaming Oasis for ripping off the Beatles or blaming the Rolling Stones for swiping all the best licks from black American bluesmen. If you pray at the altar of rock and roll “originality,” whatever that means, then you should probably avoid this record.


That would be a shame, though, as Newfoundland is filled with jaunty musicianship, hummable tunes and infectious energy. So what if it hearkens back to earlier iterations of British pop-rock? Those were great bands back in the day, and who knows—with a little time, the Nova Saints might fulfill their promise and become one, too.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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The Nova Saints - What Does It Feel Like?
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