Netherfriends, Barry and Sherry/Alap

Netherfriends, Barry and Sherry/Alap

When I started this review, I’d initially figured to only write about Netherfriends’ latest release, the free-on-BandCamp album Alap. I cringe to admit it, but I’d let the group’s previous release, last summer’s Barry and Sherry, slip past without paying much attention, and I figured, heck, I might as well review the latest, right?

Except that first, my ever-obsessive self decided that I’d also better at least listen to Barry and Sherry, for comparative purposes if nothing else. This music-criticism shit is serious business, y’all, and I wouldn’t want you to think we here at SCR don’t at least half-assedly do our homework.

And as the hazy, warm-sounding album unrolled, I found myself becoming pleasantly surprised. With Barry and Sherry, the Netherfriends trio (guitarist/singer/main man Shawn Rosenblatt, keys/flute player Angie Kang, and percussionist Paul Newmann) have crafted a likeable, friendly, pals-hanging-out slew of sneakily complex indie-pop tunes that come off like The Eastern Sea without the melancholy and a lot more drugs, or maybe Animal Collective with a lot less. It’s shambling, warmly retro-sounding, jam-y stuff with a heady psych influence flowing through it and a grin firmly affixed.

It’s hard to pick a specific high point, mind you; the album’s more of a drift-along listen, where you just let it play and quietly, unassumingly percolate its way down through your brain to your soul. Parts of songs will jump out, like the bit in “Steal This Hook (By, Abbie Hoffman)” where the band drifts cheerily in and out of the song, coming in with the stuttering, thumping drums and then fake-leaving only to come back again with full force.

Then there’s the clinking/clanking percussion on “Washed Up 80’s TV Star,” which nicely anchors a high-flying track that sounds like it’d charge off heavenwards otherwise, and the sharp-tongued bitterness of “Leads You Through the Misty Fog of Milwaukee Ave.,” which the band camouflages beneath layers of shimmery keys, distant guitars, and crashing drums.

Throughout, the band seamlessly blends electronics in with their synth-y, jangly instrumentation, to the point where you often can’t tell what instrument or voice ends and the electronic glitchery begins. Which is as it should be, in my book — there’s nothing more jarring than a sample or manipulated beat that feels like it’s thrown in on top of an already-functional song.

And once it’s run its course, Barry and Sherry leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy, like I’ve just taken a nap on the rug in the sunlight, cat-style, and woken up after having bizarre-yet-cheerful dreams about the coolest, most laid-back party ever.

Then I dove into Alap. And, um, I have no idea what happened. Gone are the fuzzy, hazy, yet still relatively coherent pop songs, and in their place is, well, pretty much just the haze. Rather than being a pop album like Barry and Sherry, Alap is a full-on ambient album, all drones and shimmery washes of sound.

And that’s…okay. I think. I mean, I don’t dislike this foray into ambient sweetness, and the band’s certainly done a good job of layering one gorgeous sound on top of another, with the end effect that Alap sounds like the lost original soundtrack to Lost in Translation (or, heck, any of Kevin Shields’ solo tracks from the actual released soundtrack).

The tracks — “songs” doesn’t really feel like the right word — shift and waver like clouds hit by the light, subtly mutating and changing at a level so far down it’s barely perceptible. Folks who are far more into the ambient side of things than I am will probably geek out and listen to those incremental little shifts with unabashed glee, but for me I’m afraid it’s just kind of, “yeah, that’s pretty…”

Beyond that, I can’t tell where one of the seven days-of-the-week-named tracks (which are weirdly out of order for the actual week, for some reason) ends and the next begins; it’s all just one gigantic cloud of beautiful, shimmering noise. It’s great background music, absolutely, but there’s not a lot to actually hold onto with Alap, no real reference points to remember later on like there are with something like, say, Oppressed by the Line or M83.

If Barry and Sherry is like some sunshiny, partially-remembered dream, as I mentioned above, Alap is like what happens when the dreaming stops and brain shuts down more fully; which is to say, it’s not something I can really see listening to a whole heck of a lot while I’m awake. It’s great for what it is, but what it is isn’t for me.

That said, I can’t fully smack down Alap, because without it I might never have actually checked out Barry and Sherry, and now having heard the latter, that would’ve been a damn shame.

Feature photo by Elise Tanner & Mary Charlene.

[Netherfriends are playing 1/11/11 at ECHO, along with Western Giants, Organ Yank, & Season Ammons.]
(Emergency Umbrella Records --; Netherfriends --
BUY ME: BandCamp

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, January 11th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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