Norton: Kersche

Norton is a Portuguese electro-pop group in the mould of Postal Service, but they've got something to say in their own right.



Label: self-released
US Release Date: 2007-04-02
UK Release Date: 2007-04-02

Norton are a group of four guys from Castelo Branco, in Portugal. They sing in English, and all four of them play synths, which might give a clue to the type of glacial, melodic electronica that the group makes. They'll make you think of Postal Service and the Icelandic group Mum, and sometimes something closer to straight rock. But this leisurely music never thrusts itself onto you -- it might take some patience, but Norton are generally deserving of the attention.

Kersche is, according to Norton, a made-up word, presumably meant to evoke some truth towards which the group approached some late night of rehearsing and whatever else musicians do to approach truth. But doesn't it just sound like "cherry" in German? The self-importance of the thing might be a little difficult to swallow -- the press materials: "it seems that this record is all about arguing a current principle" -- if the music wasn’t generally so subtly likeable. So, the "current principle", at least from what we can gauge from the band's writing, is that albums ain't albums any more, that people don't bother to listen to them all the way through, that in the age of digital downloads and music blogs we may even have lost some way of relating with music itself.

In any case, the band's second album, though it's assured enough to herald an extended career, doesn't quite have the coherence to sustain such an academic argument. As mentioned above, patience is certainly needed for these slow, atmospheric pieces: sometimes you're led to wonder if there's a lack of direction, as with "Sailing Across a Distant Sea". At their best, as on "Sill Stays On", the group sets up a pleasant, aquatic pulsation, using denser instrumentation to propel the song forward. It has the chug of a driving song, even without "The District Sleeps Tonight" or the mystic revelation of "Star Alfur". "Cinnamon and Wine", one of the standout tracks, employs more tinny synths to straddle the grey zone between pop and electronica, slowly transforming to 4/4 rock by the end. Throughout this and most of the other songs, changes in tempo and atmosphere are accrued so minimally that you're hardly aware of the changing until the endpoint's reached.

So, this atmospheric stuff works fine. A few of the experiments are less successful. "Frames of Yourself", a more straightforward dance track, clicks along at a nice rate but the "I want you"s and the "So come on"s don't have the energy necessary to energize a floor. Somehow the forlorn seems to work better for Norton. "Spherical Hearts" has a different problem: with the melody of the verses and chorus set too close together, the song's not differentiated enough, and all washes together.

It's great Kersche is getting a release here, because despite the flaws, the group's found a source of gentle and gently-evolving beauty. And for a young band that's only been around for a few years it's reassuring to hear the confidence here to create music that doesn't proffer itself fully on first listen. Forget the over-serious and over-important verbiage: it's the modest complexity of the music that supports Kersche on its own merits.

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