Any artist dubbed ‘avant-psych-tronica’ is surely worth a listen, even if it is to see whether or not their music warrants the ticking of all those genre boxes. Niagara are an Italian quartet who are signed to Monotreme, a label that consistently delivers intriguing albums. With bands on their roster such as 65daysofstatic, Nedry and This Will Destroy You, for which they are arguably most well known for, one would be forgiven for asking what in the world an oddball pop band like Niagara are doing in such company.
It doesn’t take long to realise why Monotreme wanted them on their roster. Their songs are consistently adventurous, and they’ve produced a promising, if somewhat flawed, debut effort.
A relatively brief introductory track, Eight, opens the album. It’s a gentle and dreamy lullaby built around an acoustic melody. After that, the album takes an unexpected detour. The hard, purposeful snare crashes of Superbe make for a startling juxtaposition and, before you have time to adjust to this new direction, the layers get bigger and louder. Elsewhere, the initial bounces of Etacarinae feels as if it belongs in the ’60s before they subside for a thrilling wall of noise finish.
But for its best moment, the band make things simple – even if that isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems. The lead single, Seal, is oddball pop done superbly and sees Niagara at their most playful. The idea of matching jolly ukulele chords and handclaps with sharp blasts of synthesisers is one that could go horribly wrong, but it’s a trick that isn’t overdone and, more importantly, the hooks are brilliant.
In fact, for an album that only just manages to crawl past the half-hour mark in running time, it’s filled to the brim with ideas. If anything, Niagara sound like a group that couldn’t figure out which path to go down out of eight they’ve chosen to explore.
As is generally the case with experimenting, Niagara don’t always succeed. There are songs such as Galaxy Glacier where the different sounds have a tendency to collide into an indistinct mush. The krautrock style of Watershipdown certainly feels menacing but there isn’t much substance to it, and even the closing song, Love Me Love Me, whilst eerie and mysterious, ends Otto on a whimper.
It’s hard to see Otto being for everyone, purely because it is so freewheeling, and there will be moments where you ask yourself if a particular song is going anywhere. It’s difficult to get a grasp of its often confusing and disorientating twists and turns – and, like most debuts, it is inconsistent in its eagerness to impress. But amongst all of its experiments are some curiously intriguing songs that convincingly put the case that Niagara might end up being a creative force to be reckoned with. They’re not quite the kings of ‘avant-psych-tronica’ yet, but there’s plenty of potential.