Enough of this Indian summer, I need winter now. Not because of a masochistic obsession with extreme snow sports or a romantic notion about hot chocolate and steamy café windows. I just know how good Now It's Overhead's self-titled debut is going to sound once the chill sets in. And I can't wait. Now It's Overhead is the ideal accompaniment to gray skies and frozen toes, afternoon darkness and black slush. Invigorating and sharp, like a blast of wind forcing its freezing fingers down your throat, it is a remarkable winter release.
Maybe chilling loneliness is a prerequisite to be on Omaha, Nebraska's Saddle Creek Records. Although Now It's Overhead, consisting of Andy LeMaster (vocals, instruments, recording), Orenda Fink (bass, keyboards, trumpet, vocals), Maria Taylor (keyboards, vocals) and Clay Leverett (drums, vocals), is the first non-Nebraskan band (they're from Athens, GA) to release a full length on the label, they seem to understand the pain of an Omaha winter. Much like Bright Eyes and Cursive, the band wallows in an aural desperation that is breathtaking. Beyond similar influences, Now It's Overhead is connected to the Omaha scene through frontman LeMaster, who has played on and engineered most of Bright Eyes' albums.
LeMaster also recorded Now It's Overhead, and it is his studio ability that brings NIO from the cold, wet solitude of winter snow into the pulsing static snow that fills television screens. Levels are pushed to the point of explosion. The instruments are unsettlingly overblown, and the album seems to balance on the breaking point, forcing listeners to hold their breath the entire way through. Now It's Overhead is wrought with tension and contradiction. It is at once poppy and dark, sparse and lush, full of remorse and naively hopeful.
LeMaster spits out words like they sting his mouth, while they slither down listeners' ears effortlessly. They are ripe with pain, bubbling forward, yet beautiful and soothing. On songs like "Hold Your Spin" he sings with such yearning aggression that it sounds like a scream is hiding behind the sweet melody. When Fink and Taylor's crystalline harmonies complement this vocal emoting, the effect is overwhelming.
Like their labelmates, Now It's Overhead string together the brooding pop sensibilities of early Depeche Mode and The Cure with the layered intricacies of My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized. And on the more up-tempo tracks, such as "Wonderful Scar" and "Goodbye Highway", it is easy to draw comparisons to indie contemporaries Built to Spill.
But the isolation and longing of this album are most reminiscent of Poe's Haunted. It possesses the same storytelling quality and creates an equally moody soundscape. Rather than a letter to LeMaster's father, Now It's Overhead reads like a tribute to an ended love affair. It touches on the ups and downs and blurry middle times, recalling those bittersweet moments that make people simultaneously lose and gain faith in love.
While Poe is the queen of answering machine sound effects, Now It's Overhead pull off the eerie phone ambiance pretty well in "A Skeleton on Display". And when they aren't using actual recorded sounds, they do a good job of recreating them, like the swirling ocean/highway distortion on "With A Subtle Look". Even more phenomenal is their ability to recreate the visceral sound of a heart breaking -- the pulling of muscles, the rushing blood, and the screaming release of a fragmented body.
Now It's Overhead occasionally moves from desperate and heartbreaking to downright creepy. With discordant guitar plucking and haunting strings, "6th Grade Roller" evokes the same emotions as The Blair Witch Project (when it was first released in New York and everyone gave into the hope that something so spooky could actually be true). Even the songs that don't provoke a fluttering fear bring listeners to the edge.
Now It's Overhead begins with pretty "ahhs" breathing life into it, and ends hopeful, the heart still beating like a progressive marching band drummer. This debut album is filled with so much electric energy that it seems to possess its own soul. Maybe the heat it releases will warm you up this winter, even as its pain reminds you of the bitter wind outside.