Review: Novallo – Novallo II

Cross-pollination is one of those terms those conjures up images of a band stepping outside where they came from as an entity and trying to look over their early walls. Such an approach has favoured bands like Mastadon and even A7X in their time, as well as being the foundation of prog, not to mention those bands who recognise that music is just music in all its forms, and that there really shouldn’t be any barriers to playing in a particular style. Novallo are keen to cross as many lines as possible it seems, with Novallo II being quite a smorgasbord.

Following the vague ‘mankind has always’ etc. intro upon pressing play, ‘Betty Phage Goes To Bronxton’ drops taut funk drumming, slinky key lines, seriously clipped guitar work and a vocalist who seems to be incapable of sounding unprofessional or anything other than expertly rehearsed and comfortable in their own pipes. All sorts of rhythmic shifts are dextrously applied within the composition, and even the comedy singing-through-the-1920’s bit of this track didn’t put me off.

Interestingly, the bands’ press release mentions Justin Timberlake, old NES games, metal, jazz, world music, ambient, and electronic music, and certainly one could not accuse the Columbus, Ohio quintet of being unadventurous. ‘Give Gravity A Choice’ has more than a dashing of Tesseract’s more sensible moments about it, but something more than this is present.

Truly dreadful cover aside, knowing that the band are dead set on ignoring anything that might be construed as a stylistic boundary, and that in proudly using JT as a reference point they may have alienated a large number of I’m-only-into-metal-stuff people, ‘II’ has a lot to commend it. Novallo give the impression that while they’re doing things very much on their own terms, it’s not to the exclusion of the general populace, and while some tracks on this record might be considered too extreme for the office party, ‘I AM’ is dance central. Almost rude in its stilted, juddering funkiness, the chorus sounds like Daft Punk backed by Periphery, and even though the phrase ‘itty-bitty’ is used, which is awful, this totally over-the-top hip-shaker is one of the best tracks on the album. I defy anyone in earshot of this on a night out not to get down, if that is how you dance. Jitterbug otherwise.

Single and video ‘Sideways Bird’ is openly heavy, sounding very like their League Of Djentlemen contemporaries, and indeed anyone who digs baritone tuning and heavily syncopated drum work will get below-waist movement from this. The harsh vocals are a bit wimpy, but to be honest, I’d trade a decent scream for a clean vocal range like this any day. There’s a couple of proper Gospel Chops chord changes in there for good measure, and little evidence is presented of the band playing it safe. Incidental track, ‘Sleep’, is quite beautiful, its keyboard-driven strings giving the record a gentle lift.

‘White Phoenix’ is the one you want to hear live though, with an almost needlessly-pointed rhythm section roaming around, weapons drawn the whole time. Big chorus, bonkers synth stabbing, some genuinely cheeky guitar spasms; the track-my-fancy-lead-line vocal/keys/guitar mirroring is just callous, frankly. I want to not be impressed, but I am a bit.

There’s a lot on ‘Novallo II’, and while there’s a clear thematic sense running through the whole record, this is a band with a pretty broad record collection, who aren’t ashamed of anything that’s in there. If I were to have a complaint, it’s that there’s so much going on, with so much skill and dexterity, that when the straight-forward bits happen there is a feeling of exhalation, so that the listener can take a deep breath for the next complex patterns, and though this is part of Novallo’s style, a bit less stargazing and a touch more grit would make this a storming record. Novallo ‘III’ should be astounding.

Review – John Tron Davidson

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