“Shake my arm when it’s over”
I may as well get this out of the way before I even get going: The Smiths. Now, doesn’t that feels better? It’s almost impossible to write about Northern Portrait without mentioning “Manchester’s miserablists”. You see, Stefan Larsen has a vocal style which isn’t a million miles from the croon of a certain Steven Patrick Morrissey; musically, the record bounces along with a sparkling gangle that isn’t a million miles from Johnny Marr; lyrically, we’re treated to gems like, “It’s just an attitude when all I do is mock your pretty face” or, “Life can be such a death affirming experience, indeed.” So, they’re a bit like The Smiths then.
Initially I wrote them off as just this: a bit like The Smiths. However, something kept me coming back for more. A guilty pleasure? A nostalgic twang? Sadistic musical tendencies?
Elsewhere in the world of music there’s a revival of all things 80s — all things C86, shoegaze and gloom. Albums from the likes of The Horrors and The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart are being lauded by any critic that puts fingers to keyboard — and rightly so. With their referencing of Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Velvet Underground et al, these acts are being applauded for their cool-as-fuck record collections and subsequent reference points in their own compositions. And, to this reviewer at least, this same treatment should be afforded to Northern Portrait. They don’t sound like the Smiths; they sound like they listen to the Smiths.
On the eight songs that span these two EPs we’re treated to up-beat, singalong, melody-laden fun. Yeah, fun. It’s endlessly quoteable, it’s full of indie-disco dance floor fillers, and its sing-along choruses are ten a penny. And what’s wrong with that?
Watching the band live at this year’s Indietracks festival cemented my opinion of them; they make this look pretty effortless. Larsen doesn’t look like he’s a man with an effected singing voice, that’s just how it come out. On stage the acoustic gangle is lost to a fuller, rounder sound that waters down the obvious comparisions. This is very much a step in the right direction.
With a line up that’s expanded from three to five and a live sound which builds on the promise of these two EPs, the first of Northern Portrait’s full length LPs can’t come soon enough.
[Criminal Art Lovers is slated for release before the end of 2009 on Matineé Recordings]