To be honest though Ex Norwegian are new to these ears the biggest surprise was that they are not a British band but from Florida. They deliver a wonderfully varied sound and collection of songs on second album Sketch and the three bands whose apparent influences ooze from within the music are The Beatles, The Kinks and XTC, not only in sound but composition and lightness of touch. Add being named after a Monty Python sketch one would swear the Miami Beach band were British. What is clear and blatantly obvious though is that Sketch is one wonderfully quaint and vibrant release, a pick-me-up for each and every day whatever the mood.
Ex Norwegian was formed in 2008 by vocalist Roger Houdaille, creating the band to realise his songwriting as it became a more serious element in his life. It did not take long before the band’s first song ‘Something Unreal’ was unveiled on Myspace which swiftly led to an invite to perform at the CMJ convention in New York. The band strongly impressed then and through 2009 with the release of their debut album Standby via Dying Van Gogh Records and a tour promoting the release drawing even more acclaim. Sketch was created at the end of the tour and self released by the band in June 2010. Lacking label support at this point plus the absence of finance the band eventually came to the end and the album wonderfully brought forth by Houdaille, drummer Arturo Garcia, guitarist Lucas Queiroz, bassist Nina Souto, and vocalist Michelle Grand, sadly basically dormant.
Luckily December 5th sees Sketch re-released with again Dying Van Gogh Records picking up the album to give it a national and international release. As the label picked up the album Houdaille decided to reform the band, picking up bass duties to add to his vocals he was joined by the returning Lucas Queiroz and Michelle Grand plus new addition drummer Alex Ibanez. With shows to support the re-release and a planned EP of new songs in early 2012 Ex Norwegian are surely on the restart of a definite rise for the band and their great sounds.
A grumbling bass throb opens up first track ‘Jet Lag’ to be replaced within seconds by an alternative pop sound that entices, teases and wraps itself around the ear like an old friend. The chorus is an instant sing-a-long which is surrounded by infectious melodic indie guitars and hooks. The extra touches like keys and an eager trumpet blast adds to the pleasing and engaging sounds. The song immediately lets you know the important thing about the band, they know how to surprise and intrigue with unexpected twists and sounds whilst still making it instinctively and invitingly accessible.
The bouncy ‘Smashing Time’ with deep beats and emphatic melodies carries on the irrepressible sounds and joy. Another contagious array of seductive hooks and melodies the song leaps eagerly into the ear and in an album of constant highlights is the brightest track offered.
As mentioned the songs and sounds are strongly varied though all have the distinct Ex Norwegian flavouring, from the excellent dual vocal ‘Mind Down’ delivered with the pop excess of Klark Kent, the Kinks spiced gentle mesmeric sway of ‘Seconds’, and the Pixies toned ‘You’re Elastic Over Me’ nothing is predictable but always sunny, vibrant and intriguing. ‘Sky Diving’ and the strolling ‘Upper Hand’ have a definite Andy Partridge feel from the Skylarking era of XTC whilst the sophisticated groves of ‘Acting on an Island’ shimmer with a 60’s pop feel.
The album ends on the Monkees meets The Pixies tease of ‘Girl With The Moustache’ and its crying out to be loved melodies. Sketch is a blissful display of varying tempos and arrangements, diverse directions and off balancing creativity, as well as cascading and sumptuous melodies that drip with siren like appeal. The album is immediate proof why the return of Ex Norwegian is one of the most important moments in indie music this year and those to come.