Head North - The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World

by Jon Burke Rating:7 Release Date:2017-06-23

Head North’s latest is as confounding as its unnecessarily long title. In terms of their sound, imagine My Morning Jacket, circa 2005, but not hamstrung by inner jam band urges. Imagine a more focused, slickly produced, Guided By Voices fronted by a young Bobby Bare Jr. Head North make a cosmically big sound but there’s a playful bar band edge to their intergalactic rock aspirations. The Last Living Man… features moments of true brilliance which are interspersed with moments of pat indie rock and chaotic musical choices. The Last Living Man… offers listeners a kitchen sink experience in which every influence the band could reference was thrown in, for better or worse. If listeners are able to overcome a few of the album’s more unintentionally caustic points, The Last Living Man… pays dividends.

One of the central issues for listeners to overcome pertains to Head North lead vocalist, Brent Martone. Though Martone has a truly unique voice, the “uniqueness” is highly distracting. At times it seems like Martone is trying to affect an accent that is at once gritty, raspy, gravely and melancholy. The end result is something closer to a speech impediment – especially on the album’s opening track, “Sort of Medicine.” The airy keyboards and electronics which open “Sort of Medicine” make clear that Head North’s aspirations for the album go way beyond pop punk. Then Martone begins muttering his spoken word lyrics and the phrase “In the window” comes out of Martone’s mouth as: “ehrn da win-doe-uh.” Any mood established by the atmospherics is squandered with the cartoonish melodrama of Martone’s highly affected persona. Fortunately for all involved, the vocals become more palatable when he’s forced to actually sing.

Track two of, The Last Living Man…, “By Presidential Decree,” is a barnburner. The arena rock aspirations are made clear by Martone’s exuberance, some soaring guitar chords and a four-on-the-floor beat that seem engineered to erase the bad taste left by “Sort of Medicine.” This is the same brand of glorious, straight ahead rock that made Band of Horses into indie festival darlings – because who wants to be mopey and serious all the time? Have a beer, relax and enjoy the show.

“By Presidential Decree,” really sets the tone for a few songs. That is until the sweet, peaceful and less affected, “The First One” reveals Martone is fully capable of producing words without the baby talk accent overwhelming everything. The rambling instrumental-under-whistling of the next track, “God’s Segue,” could just as easily be titled, “God’s Highly Unnecessary Segue.” From this point on the album jumps from genre-to-genre, style-to-style. There are moments of indie pop (“Pulse” and “White Light”), moments of folk (“Hibernation Hymn”) and some regrettable spoken word (“Somewhere, ND”).

The best moments of The Last Living Man… come when things are at their most natural: “By Presidential Decree,” “White Light,” “Fallow” and “Broke.” On these tracks no one is forcing anything–especially depth. Brent Martone is not now, nor will he ever be, Bruce Springsteen. Nor Tom Waits. Nor Craig Finn. For Head North to grow from The Last Living Man… they will need to stick to what they are good at: powerful, spaced-out rock music. Wilco’s didn’t start at Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Springsteen had to get Asbury Park out of the way before he made Born To Run. Head North have some truly great songs on The Last Living Man… but it’s clear their best are yet to come so long as they don't keep getting ahead of themselves.

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