Worldwide Skyline is an impressive release. Ross' musicianship is flawless, and his elegiac lyrics an absolute delight. Ultimately two EPs may have made a lot more sense, but what the hell, it's still streaks ahead of his psych-folk kin.
Worldwide Skyline is the sophomore release from Nordic Nomadic, the solo project of Chad Ross, singer and guitarist from Canada's acid-fried rockers Quest for Fire. Ross' main band concentrates on guitar heavy psilocybin-fueled kosmische jams. While Nordic Nomadic shares similar psychedelic inclinations, Ross forgoes the heaviness and delivers stripped back, cannabinoid flavored, acoustic folk. With susurrus vocals, touches of vintage synth and droning effects, Ross concocts backcountry melancholic suites. They are the sort of tunes perfectly suited to gathering round the campfire in some misty foreboding forest, contemplating the preternatural, and gazing at the spiraling cosmos, man.
Aside from some vibraphone added by Paul Aucoin of Arcade Fire fame, Ross wrote, recorded and mixed Worldwide Skyline all on his lonesome. He performs all the instrumentation on nine songs that comprise the follow up to Nordic Nomadic's 2009 debut, and it's an admirable and accomplished effort. There's no hint of hubris, and none of that superfluous, uncomfortable or overly ambitious solo album nonsense to be found. And it all begins with a delightful tease.
A corpulent wave of synth starts the first track, "Worldwide Skyline", suggesting this could be the Six Organs of Admittance/Zombi styled mash-up I've always dreamed of, only for the keyboards to fall away as Ross' nimble-fingered picking and whispering vocals arrive. It's a great start. Ross mixes the pastoral, fey tones of smoky folk with drone washes -- reminiscent of latter day Earth or early Barn Owl -- that re-emerge throughout the number. It adds a picturesque, capricious quality to the tune, and it's a sonic device he uses throughout the album.
Pre-release press for Worldwide Skyline suggested a few names for easy musical reference, Neil Young chief amongst them. A fair degree of commonalty exists between the album and Young's folksier works, but his seminal droning Americana soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's '95 film Dead Man has a clearly recognizable influence. The devilishly enchanting "Growing Horns", where you'll find the most obvious nod to Ross' supposition that “Worldwide Skyline lets its evil shine", and "Summer Friends" have their bucolic folk reinforced with a shoegaze backbone, adding weight to their ramshackle, enchanting nature.
Although Ross skillfully maintains an understated mood throughout the album, there is an issue with the wistful and primitive folk clashing with the album's modulating, cosmic proclivities. While Ross is clearly a songwriter of considerable talent -- his instrumental abilities are abundantly clear, and the hallucinogenic themes on the album are magnificently rendered – some of his more fundamentally folk songs feel out of place. It's like they belong on an entirely different album.
Tracks such as "The Future's Fear", "Soft Way" or "The Things You Lost" are just as meticulously sculpted as any of the others, but their exposed, rudimentary form means they are not so dissimilar to the work of many other, more recognizable, psych-folk artists. Measured against tracks like "Bite to Chew", with its celestial leanings set around a guitar line that hovers beautifully in the troposphere, or "Listen to the Leaves", with its fantastically psychotropic/pastoral drone, they come across as too generic.
While those aforementioned sparser tracks would be interesting on their own, Ross manages to fill the background on his more complex numbers with intriguing sonic tweaks. Therefore, the more minimalist songs come across as slightly lackluster. Again, they are wonderfully produced, with a lovely '60s charm, and Ross performs them without a trace of the ironic nostalgia that haunts many vintage folk acts, but the difference between the kosmische and rustic makes for a disjointed listen.
Overall, Worldwide Skyline is still an impressive release. Ross' musicianship is flawless, and his enigmatic, elegiac lyrics a delight. There are distinct advantages in delivering honest acoustic tunes, not least the sense of trust that is established between a performer and their audience. Ross certainly establishes that aspect early on. There's no doubting his genuine desire to express his love and belief in the mind-expanding possibilities of celestial and psychedelic folk. Perhaps ultimately two EPs may have made more sense, but if you had a mind to re-sequence the album yourself -- you can always build your own playlist -- then you'll not be disappointed with the results.