[25 October 2006]
The name Andy LeMaster, for most people, is the name of the guy who plays keyboards and sings back up for the supposed next Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes. For others, he’s the engineer for acts ranging from Drive-By Truckers and Azure Ray, as well as the honcho behind Chase Park Transduction studios. But for whatever reason, his band, Now It’s Overhead, has remained curiously under the radar. Despite their presence on the indie label stronghold, Saddle Creek Records, Now It’s Overhead’s first two albums, though garnering some strong positive press, simply refused to ignite a following.
Drawing influences from the more tortured of mainstream acts, such as the Cure, Massive Attack, and Depeche Mode, and fusing them with an indie rock/shoegaze sensibility, Now It’s Overhead’s self-titled debut was certainly refreshing. It was sonically thick, yet airy while packing a potent emotional punch. The follow-up, Fall Back Open, was less successful, offering somewhat more watery versions of tracks from its predecessor, yet it still offered a healthy batch of strong moments.
Dark Light Daybreak starts off with all the trademark Now It’s Overhead qualities: guitars drenched in reverb, electronic percussion, and LeMaster’s reedy, treated voice hovering just above everything else. “Let the Sirens Rest” is quintessential Now It’s Overhead. It builds to its climax deliberately, delicately, and purposefully. Each choice, sonically and lyrically, is considered and just right. The payoff is fantastic and like the songs from the debut, it wears its influences without merely aping them. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the disc.
LeMaster’s compositions are a tricky balance. When they work, they are evocative pieces both grand and sweeping, yet never betraying the darker emotions that line the edges. But when they falter, as many of them do here, the songs are all operatics and no emotion. The tracks project the vision of arena acts like U2 and Coldplay, but are similarly empty. LeMaster’s ambition is definitely admirable, but in trying to make his sound even bigger he’s forgotten what makes them so memorable.
Curiously, it seems that as the tempos get faster on Dark Light Daybreak, the songs get worse, and as most of them stride at mid-tempo at the very least, the album is a disappointment. As a singer, LeMaster isn’t blessed with a great voice, but on the tracks that worked on previous album, they built methodically enough that it wasn’t the sound of his voice, so much as the conviction that sold them. Here, his voice simply isn’t strong enough to be noticed through the now faster-paced tunes and his wall of sound production. But worse, it seems LeMaster thinks he is a great singer and even on potentially strong tracks such as “Night Vision”, his excruciating, Ashley Simpson-styled note missing cannot be ignored.
As I loved their debut, and enjoyed their follow-up despite its shortcomings, Dark Light Daybreak leaves me substantially less encouraged. Andy LeMaster seems intent on reinventing the wheel and, in doing so, may forget just what made everything about Now It’s Overhead so unique and exciting to begin with. I hope that’s not the case. But for now, Dark Light Daybreak reaches for territory that LeMaster simply is not ready for, and which is unsuited for the songwriting strength he possesses.