This third album from the Louisiana-based synth
pop artist summons the sweep and drama of late new wave (Echo & the
Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs, the Cure) into the bedroom. Its self-recorded
intimacy cross-hatches epic climaxes with vulnerability.
Harlan began as a solo project from electronic
experimenter John Harlan Norris, who built his first album The Still Beat entirely alone, relying on synthesizers, programmed
drums and loops. Night Loop, by
contrast, incorporates more live musicians and natural sounds, Norris’ elegant,
florid voice framed by guitar and piano, as well as electronic sounds.
In fact, he opens with guitar sounds, the
cracked, reverberating riff of “Daffodil” sounding like something that Jesus
& Mary Chain might have tried. It’s paced by machine-like, inflexible
drums, pounded hard, and a piano following the guitar riff, but in a much
higher, twinklier register. Norris’ voice glides serenely through this
half-natural, half-synthethic landscape. He sings about a “city of brilliant
distractions and returnable toys.” Later
rust-toned, string-squeaking picking adds grit to dream-like “I Am To Be Your
Modern Man,” one of several reticent gems on the disc.
“Death in the Living Room,” just afterwards,
ditches the dirt and the guitars and heads towards a more manicured,
synthesizer heavy vibe. Norris gets off some clever lines here, too, asking, “God,
are you a rocker or a mod, I found your sense of victory odd.” The tension
between sweeping, soothing melodies and literate scorn recalls the Smiths. “You’re
a Teenager,” in particular, is a Morrissey-esque slap that curls into
tenderness, its sarcasm twisted integrally into the airiest, most uplifting
Loop is too moody and quiet to be an immediate grabber, but there’s plenty
of good stuff that develops over repeat listens. It s a clever album that
doesn’t work at proving how smart it is, a melodic CD that doesn’t hit you over
the head with hooks. A subtle, slow-burning winner.
DOWNLOAD: “Daffodil” “You’re
a Teenager” JENNIFER KELLY