Norfolk & Western, the creation of one of Portland’s most prominent musicians Adam Selzer, have a history mapped with association rather than success. It’s a story littered with names that, in the wider music world, have achieved greater notoriety than Selzer himself. The drummer is of Decemberists and Bright Eyes fame; Peter Broderick was once in the band; they’ve supported the likes of Sparklehorse and Devotchka; and Selzer plays regularly on tour with M Ward.
He is a well connected man who also owns Type Foundry Studio, one of Portland’s finest recording establishments. Mainly residing in that studio since the band’s inception, Norfolk & Western decidedly moved out to Puerto de la Santa Maria, Spain in order to breathe fresh air into this, their new album. It sees the band leave behind their tendency to overdub tracks to orchestrated perfection, allowing themselves to revel in a more live sounding, raw recording.
Norfolk & Western have produced some pretty good country and folk inspired tracks through the years; nothing that was going to take over the world, but still pretty good. The songs which populate Dinero Severo are of the same ilk. This album won’t propel them to a headline slot at Glastonbury, but it will certainly endear them to many a new listener. �Because, even though the songs do lack a certain originality, it is impossible to fault in terms of ‘enjoyabilty’, if that’s a word. Then again, the album doesn’t try and create a new mind-boggling genre of music; instead it wears its influences proudly upon its sleeve. This is the sound of a band thoroughly taking pleasure in playing as an immaculate whole, making the kind of music that their heroes would have. It produces a showcase of styles from alternative country, acoustic folk, Beatles-inspired pop, and experimental electric guitar driven rock. The songs might not fit together in terms of a concept album, but the whole package is undeniably satisfying from beginning to end.
The first couple of songs are not really the best indication of how the album develops from there, with two pretty run of the mill yet pleasant folk ditties. Turkish Wine, however, is the albums first indulgence into a more interesting sonic experience. It’s an upbeat, dreamlike song that is perpetually interrupting by waves of distorted guitars, screeching out made-up chords; Norfolk & Western’s best impression of Yo La Tengo? Possibly.�Selzer’s voice even has a hint of Ira Kaptan throughout. This album is certainly a venture into heavier territory for the band. Just as Turkish Wine has flipped the album one way, the following song Every Morning instantly puts it safely back on the old folky beaten track. This constant chopping and changing of sound, switching from inspiration to inspiration is pretty resonant to the whole of Dinero Severo.
It is another Yo La Tengo inspired track, Whippoorwill Song, which provides the album’s centrepiece of creativity and experimentalism. Heavy with more distorted guitars that offer enough feedback to shift the fillings from your teeth, the song is a primarily composed of spoken word verses which are accompanied an energetically strummed banjo and a groovy bassline. The rest of the song is full of messy guitar improvisations that Thurston Moore would be proud of.
At 14 songs and nearly an hour, it’s probably a bit too long for its own good; nevertheless this is not an album that demands the listener to sit and digest every time in a single sitting, deep in concentration. Due to the variation of sound and style throughout, it can just as easily be enjoyed with intermittent listens. Fans of Wilco especially will understand the brilliance of this kind of record; understated yet stamped with a real seal of quality musicianship and songwriting.