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Album Review: NO ‘El Prado’

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on July 14, 2014

“Is this The National?”

Many heads have poked through my door in the last week to ask that question. Tempting as it has been to engage in an Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First” esque argument and reply with “No, it’s NO,” I haven’t. After all, the confusion is understandable. Like The National, the LA rockers boast a large amount of members; with just one more musician, they’re a sextet. Bands of that size can be prone to indiscriminate walls of noise and a mish-mash of musical styles. Not always a bad thing if done well, mind you. NO take a more considered approach to their music, matching The National’s lulling ripples of shimmering guitar and layered indie rock. They’re also backed by a lead singer with deep, masculine, humming vocals. But before you write NO off as derivative or copycatist, it’s important to note what NO does different, and in a lot of ways, better.

NO’s lyrics are a hell of a lot less ambiguous for one, lending their music to be a lot more easy to engage with. It also sets up songs where the chorus steal the show. Those ripples of shimmering guitar and layered indie rock I spoke of earlier, break into waves of thumping orchestral ballads, yet it’s a sound that still remains hauntingly intimate. A large part of this is the way Kiwi frontman, Bradley Hanan Carter’s vocals are echoed and harmonised, and it goes a long way to making heartbreak sound beautiful.

But it’s a big LP with 13 lengthy tracks and variety is the reason it’s such an engaging experience. The thumping rock and chorus driven songs, such as “Stay With Me” and “Monday”, give way to more melodic tracks that take longer to pick up, such as “So Scared” and “North Star”, which contain minutes of dripping guitar and poetic vocals punctuated by placid drums that lead into brief sections of huge atmospheric rock.

While those initial comparisons to The National are valid, NO are just a whole lot punchier, while still remaining considered, intimate, and hauntingly beautiful. Lyrically, they’re also more relatable, with strong chorus lines that interpose profound yet simplistic verses. You only get one shot at a first album, El Prado shows that the years since NO’s first EP release, have been well spent, because they’ve executed it perfectly. At the same time, they’ve crafted an album that will be difficult to match in future efforts, but that I’m already looking forward to. El Prado is a strong contender for my favourite album of the year, thus far.

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