Monday, June 15, 2009

National Skyline. This = Everything (File 13, 2001)

"They can fill my lungs with air/ They can tell I barely care."

National Skyline sprang from the fertile post-punk breeding ground of Champaign-Urbana, IL, home to '90s semi-stars Braid, the Poster Children, Castor, and Hum. In fact, National Skyline boasts refugees from several of those acts: bassist Jeff Dimpsey did time in the Poster Children and Hum, and singer/guitarist Jeff Garber used to be in Castor. That qualifies as a supergroup, in some admittedly tight circles.

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Hum's patented spaceface drone, National Skyline's sound leans heavily on glitchy digital rhythms, haunting, breathy vocals, and smooth-to-abrasive guitar work. The end result is darkly atmospheric and surprisingly hooky, a unique listening experience and beautiful in a sinister way, like gleaming, winterbright ice masking the dark and deadly waters of a frozen lake.

This = Everything is National Skyline's second full length, following 2000's self-titled debut, and it's a pretty intriguing piece of work. Over the course of 10 songs and 40 minutes, these sons of the Land of Lincoln articulate their singular vision, in turn crafting a collection of tunes calling to mind the more tuneful aspects of post-rock and the cheerful dance floor knowhow of New Order. Rhythm is king throughout, as live drums and programmed beats blend to provide a solid foundation for the fluid, minor key-dominated bass and guitar interplay. Garber delivers the lyrics in a dreamy, blissed out exhale of a voice, adding to the outer limits feel of the LP.

"Some Will Say" herky-jerks the album off to a nice start, Dimpsey's rich bass line bolstering off-kilter beats behind chiming loops and Garber's swelling guitar. "Reinkiller" charges forward, its dubby momentum and pinballing riffs giving way to digitally-inflected power chords. The delightful bounce and swagger of "A Night at the Drugstore" is an album highlight, its effortless buoyancy providing one of the few downright cheerful periods of an otherwise pretty shadowy album.

"A Million Circles" ropes you in with its hypnotic melody and crisp syncopation, waves of synth gone glassy and smooth, shattered at the crucial moment by Garber's frantic solo. The acoustic "Cadence of Water" provides a welcome organic counterpoint to the rest of the LP's mechanistic sheen, weaving poignant strums around lilting ebb-and-flow vocals, delicate and wounded.

National Skyline aim for a kind of desolate, gorgeous soundscape, and inevitably hit the mark. This = Everything conjures up the beauty of an oil refinery at night, its smokestacks and halogen lights in full man-made bloom, artificial in every way but sublimely stunning all the same.

a night at the drugstore - national skyline