Hailing from the sunny environs of Bristol, England, the four-piece alt rock outfit Norra, composed of Kieran Marsden, Lewis Spear, James Harvey and Gabe Palmer began in early 2015 while its members attended university in Cornwall. After gigging around for a bit the band went back to Bristol to record their debut EP Far Below It.
There are two forces at work on Far Below It. Those forces are heavily distorted guitar rock that is never let too far outside of the lines, so that it is easily digestible for both mainstream listeners who treat music as a soundtrack to their lives as well as those who take the craft of songwriting very seriously.
I enjoyed Far Below It immensely. The album reminded me at times of bands as diverse in theory as The Cure circa 1980-1985 and The National circa their entire oeuvre, though I thought the band held back a little too much. I refer to the bookends of the four-song EP. The album opens with the title track, a brooding and confessional tune that starts off with the quietness of a prayer, and then strikes out into clamorous thunder of distorted guitars. Unfortunately those guitars don’t get to stay on the stage very long and it’s a real shame. This same shame also happens on the closing track “Out of Mind.” It begins, beautifully with mellow, finger picked acoustic and vocals ghostly reminiscent of the great Jeff Buckley. Then with a seamless change “Out of Mind” turns into a wave of fuzz addled feedback. But it crests abruptly, hitting the end without the force that it had promised as it was barreling its way towards the shore.
Looking at the middle songs, beginning with the spritely and poetic “For Better, For Worse,” at nearly six- minutes long plays off lighter hazy and jazzy guitar riffs which do get a fair amount of time to show off, turning slightly sonic in the middle before holding back enough to pretty up the denouement. The biggest standout as far as form goes is “Busy.” The song begins busily with revved up guitars that come out pummeling, and some pretty good stop-starts work well with the vocals, although the band doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to weep or rock as it goes from balladry to shredding and so on and so forth.
In the end Far Below It is an impressive batch of songs from a young and very talented band. If Norra wants to continue to make distortion riddled love songs, bands to model themselves after would be their British Isle compatriots My Bloody Valentine and The Twilight Sad who are able to pull off this feat with marvelous effect.
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