Northern Hustle-“Forgether” Track-By-Track!

There are several artists of note that have  debuted this year in and around Phoenix that truly strike a chord with me, ones that excite me viscerally—they are across nearly every genre I can think of and I am thankful that I either discovered them out of the blue or that the fine folks that know me felt it urgent to bring them to my attention. One of these bands in Northern Hustle.  One day I had never heard them, the next day, which I think was a Tuesday, I received four different emails about them, one from the band itself and all concerned the same thing, could I give a hand and post about their Kickstarter campaign. I get this kind of thing a lot, but I don’t get them from a band I’ve never heard of, two musicians I respect tremendously and a loving fan who is a friend of mine. I checked out the tracks that were posted (“Homestead” and “Tangled”) and I totally dug it, so I figured what the hell,  these guys are good.  At that point, I believe “Homestead” was already getting play in the UK, the band had clearly developed a devout following and I doubt my push was needed to make a difference, because they crushed the goal of their campaign in three days.  The result of that achievement is one of my favorite albums of the year, Forgether.

Drew Dunlap and Jonathan Malfabon have created a strange kind of magic on the debut album of Northern Hustle and I can’t quite nail down in my own mind why I love them so, but damnit their music both live and on record make thankful to be alive and have ears. Beginning simply enough with “Hello” which is the name of the short nearly wordless introductory song and the first word spoken, by a child, on the album. It literally invites the listener into the album with a sense of childlike wonder and glee, a crowd singing along, clapping in celebration. “Homestead” follows  immediately and the glee, the glad minded momentum is not lost. This is one of my favorite singles of the year, there is a sense of comfort I find in the layers of unusual percussion, soft spoken vocals and gentle guitar, it feels like your heart is coming home—it’s simply a beautiful song, soothing without being the least bit sleepy.  As I wrote before about this song: “When “Homestead” explodes in the last minute with a choir of “badadadadadadada’s” it turns to pure gold and you can understand why this is getting airplay in the UK. A perfect song, a perfect single in sound and construction and it stands as lyrically outstanding. Clearly the introspective study of one’s own soul and motives in light of the generous amount of advice and guidance that everyone or society in general is ever so willing to give. The earlier questions, the big questions of life are asked “Where is my soul? What makes us whole?” but the final verse is the true telling of the singer and the song, “When I figure out I’m lost, Will I know which road I’m on? Or where it came from…And if I do, Will my truth be in the move?” The perfect song to serve as a soundtrack for a sunrise as seen through your kitchen window while you question the meaning of life, which has been what I’ve been doing as I write this. Truly beautiful.”

“I’ve been holding hugs to find a reason…” starts of “Empty Notes” and the beauty continues. The music is so sparse and there is so much space between the percussion, guitar and vocals that this emptiness almost creates an instrument unto itself. The structure of Northern Hustles songs are intensely fascinating and they prevent music that may cause one to nod off if performed by other artists, to one that arrests the brain with simply trying to keep up with shifting changes encased in every tune. “Tangle” is all of 90 seconds long and is a winding spin of intricate guitar work with lyrics that don’t even come in until nearly the minute mark. What has always fascinated me about the track is that it simply doesn’t seem that short, so much is compressed into that space, that it seems like it’s so much longer. Apparently in addition to making beautiful music Northern Hustle can also bend time.  “Weak Mouth” has one of the loveliest acoustic intros on the entire affair, it is also the longest song on the album and something of a centerpiece.  It is sentimentally sweet, a song it seems of cautious love, of heartache, loss, and discovery, but it is delivered with such authentic wistfulness it will make you ache. Complete with the sounds of a thunderstorm, the song seems to rain down upon your ears in the last minute or so with perfect rhythmic patterns in time with the storm in your mind.

“Seeking A Cure” is another “link” track, so to speak, starting the second half of the album in a similar way that “Hello” began the first half. There is no singing, only a monologue continuing the story of the lovers, the rain still pouring from the previous song. The likely conclusion of the lovers separated,“Leaving Alone” may be a wise choice for a second single—it’s beautiful, winsome and truly touching and the vocal gumnastics between Dunlap and Malfabon at the end of the song are damn near hypnotic. “Ghosts” is another song under two minutes that serves as much to continue the apparent storyline as it does to pick up the pace of the album, the ghosts in question are as real as they are imagined and we’ve all shared in acknowledging ghosts like these.  Every moment of the epic “Northland” is worth the price of admission alone.  From the intricate guitar work, the maddening percussion to the lyricless sing-a-long  choral parts, to the pace that slowly works your soul into a bit of a frenzy—when that guitar kicks in at 3:18 and the song launches it’s like a sunbeam hitting your heart directly after days of rain. After so many listens to Forgether, this may well be my favorite song on the album.

“Alma” closes out the album with subtle, simple perfection, lulling the listener into a dream, a sweet dream of reverie and love.  There is a gentle sense of loss, a soft sense of emptiness, still fraught somehow with intense beauty and desperate longing. The song weave around your heart and soul, embeds itself in your mind until you “Well, I cannot help it” being repeated over and over again in your thoughts until the sound of a record running out of its groove or a tape running out in the soft snow of static white noise. Stunning. I simply cannot wait for the projected volumes in the rest of this trilogy and eagerly anticipate their release.

You have not one, but two chances to see Northern Hustle this weekend, please refer to the flyers below for further information.