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The Novelists: Book One

Something has come to my attention, and that is The Novelists’ album Book One. For reasons I can’t explain, I haven’t previously given The Novelists a chance, so let me be the first and most likely, only person to apologize on my behalf to the aforementioned parties. Your work on this album is nothing short of incredible.

Fans of music with long memories might remember adult-contemporary pop bands like The Beautiful South, Marc Cohn, or Mike + The Mechanics (and many, many more.) These were musicians’ pop bands where the point was to deliver an incredibly clever piece of music with lyrics that really make you pay attention. The production values really matter. The style of music the band plays varies based on whatever song they’re playing. It needs to sound great and have something interesting about it.

This album by this band has that quality.

To find out the lineup of this band, I looked them up on Facebook. It turns out this band includes Justin Kruger, who was a member of the incredible jazz fusion band The Electrosonics some years back. I find this out after I have already started rocking out to this album, and it certainly makes me feel like the dots connect. Talented people who love what they do can acheive amazing results.

New to my ears are the voices of Megan Slankard, Eric Andersen, Joel Ackerman, and Zac Teran. They all shine on this album. Production quality of this album is high. The vocals are well recorded, the lyrics are very well written and the instruments are played very well and everything is mixed perfectly.

The album’s first track, Morris & Estelle, sets the stage for what the band are going for. Piano, guitars, drumming and time signatures too elaborate for me to count blend together with lyrics that are intended to tell an actual, digestible story. They pull it off well.

The duets are one area where this band shines where other bands might have a hard time. Pattern and I’m In No Pain couldn’t be more different except for the fact that they are both sung by both a male and female vocalist. On Pattern, the production capabilities of the band are on display, as the songwriting lends itself well to going back and forth between the two vocalists, and the hooks and bridges are very tight and pull everything together. I’m In No Pain is a piano-and-strings ballad that would sound at home on the radio.

While most of the songs are focused on relationships and other love-related topics, four songs take on a philosophical dimension, mostly relating to self-empowerment. You Will Know My Name is about religion. They Will Follow is about self-empowerment. Above the Hiding is about getting outside your comfort zone and doing your thing. Finish Line is about how the work is never done. The clever lyrics and tight arrangements on these songs are more good examples of what this band is capable of.

The band don’t get every song right. The lowest point on the album is War Paint, a song that should be a standout hit, but which makes a great lyrical error about 2/3 of the way through and to my hears, hardly ever recovers. This is unfortunate, because the singing and the piano playing really set a powerful mood, and it meets, by some definition, Phil Collins’ law that a pop song should state something universal in a universally digestible format. “A simple idea, simply sung, that simply sounds like it was sung with conviction.” This song shoots for that by saying “I miss you all the time, I miss you in my life,” and while this is something everyone can identify with, the rest of the song tells an incomprehensible story. Another song that falls a little flat to this reviewer’s ears is No One Watching Us. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the song, it just doesn’t measure up to the quality of the rest of the work on this album.

Regardless, this band is tacking close to the winds of the Collins Law, and they pull it off almost perfectly with We. This is a song of a life together ending that comes across very straightforwardly, and manages to be a worthy torch song. Worth a listen.

It’s refreshing to hear music by a band that’s got something to say, and manages to say it while getting important performance aspects right. Hopefully The Novelists will have more to say soon.