Minus the banjo, “Wonders of the Invisible World”, the opening track on Northern Alliance’s For the Grains of Sand, mirrors Sufjan Stevens’s “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” almost note for note—and it ain’t pretty. Plenty of rough, unpolished voices dot the popular music landscape, which to me is rarely a hindrance, but frontman Doug Johnstone’s pitch is just off-kilter enough to irk. The Scottish indie rock band apparently rarely plays live, but for the singing alone I would encourage them to do so. Songs like the slow-core flavored “The Years the Locusts Ate” and “Calgary” make a beautiful enough racket to deserve more than your average sad sack delivery. A metronome might also come in handy (ahem, “Start of Winter”, ahem). I hate to write off a young band trying to do their influences proud, so I’ll issue them challenge: when you can hold a note as long and clean as Alan Sparhawk can, I’ll be waiting.
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