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North of Tomorrow - Clear As Can Be (self-released)

30 December 2023

The art of exploring many ideas and traveling through several, different genres within the space of one album, is in retaining a certain sonic consistency throughout the trip. That is to say, wander far and wide through whatever musical pastures take your fancy, but always sound like yourself. And if you want to know what sounds like, give Clear As Can Be the latest long player from North of Tomorrow a spin.

The sonic fingerprint here, the musical glue that allows them to wander at will without moving outside of their musical personality, is a lush, hazy, soulful sound, something that sits somewhere between the pastoral Laurel Canyon sound and Steely Dan’s eclectic experimentation, between folky ambiance and progressive rock’s more calm and considered expressions. But, all of that was as if it were happening for the first time, right here, right now and with the benefit of all that has happened musically in the years between.

And if the opener, “Late Again,” is bass-driven, laidback and seductive, bravely understated yet perfectly representative way to kick things off, “The Pretenders Ball,” which follows, throws in some wonderful ska undertones as if to say, see, don’t even try to second-guess what we are all about, just enjoy the ride and see where it takes you.

I was naturally drawn to “The Boojum Tree,” the name being a nod to Lewis Carrol’s controversial and perhaps convoluted poem, “The Hunting of the Snark,” and the music here is perfectly loaded with the required amount of mystique and musical charisma, strangeness, and unpredictability. (Assuming that the title is that directly connected. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter, nothing wrong with look for, and perhaps finding things that aren’t intentionally there.) And then there are tracks such as “Who Killed Love,” an ambient drift of a song built on the distant mourning of a trumpet, vocals half lost in the wind, spacious back beats and bass, and little else.

What a great album, one that, as I said at the beginning, travels far but never loses sight of what it is about, from a band who are happy to roam all over the sonic landscape but always know who they are and what binds them together. Fantastic.