Northstar – Pollyanna review

Triple Crown Records

“And operator, I can’t hold much longer”
From “To My Better Angel”

For Northstar, it’s been a long journey from the local music scene in and around Alabama from its 1997 inception to its place on the national music scene and current release, “Pollyanna.”

The band gained attention when Taking Back Sunday declared the group the “greatest band in the world” in the liner notes of the band’s debut “Tell All Your Friends” in 2002. The praise was used in the marketing of Northstar’s debut “Is This Thing Loaded” later that same year.

Whether or not you agree with the praise, Northstar are out to prove it just may be true with its latest release.

Kicking off with “For Members Only,” a fast-tempo rocker similar to the opener of “Is This Thing…,” Northstar immediately grab hold of the listener with its trademark sound. The production is noticeably better this time around. While the band, in general, focus on a generic sound (strong rock music, catchy lyrics and choruses for the most part), they do it extremely well. Lead singer Nick Torres has a particularly distinctive voice and delivery, almost dreamy and slightly slurred with an element of snotty punk vocals but also probably due to his southern dialect.

Whereas “Is This Thing…” started off strong and sort of petered out mid-way through the album (where it almost all started to sound the same or, at least, less inspired), “Pollyanna” starts off with a bang and just gets better and better.

The title track follows up the opener with a strong guitar opening from Tyler Odom. Odom lays a nice hypnotic riff under the verses of the song before the song explodes into the chorus. Musically, during the chorus, the band’s tight trades are fully evident, showing it pays to tour relentlessly to polish your craft.

“American Living” is also great musically, while “Pornographers Daughter” shows off the band’s haunting backing vocals, specifically the hollow “This is not for me…” The later also features some really interesting guitar play especially after the first chorus.

But while the album rocks out track after track, the band also throws in a couple of slower songs. “Accident Underwater” starts off slow and hypnotizingly melodic with some nice drumming from Gabe Renfroe before flourishing into a full-bore rock track at its conclusion. On the flip side, “Two Zero Zero” starts off slow and stays that way, a haunting acoustic number showing the band can strip down at times without loosing the spark most of the other songs have.

Following the slower two-song intermission, the band offers up a hard-hitting one-two punch, and the strongest tracks on the album, “To My Better Angel” and “Between Horns and Halos.”

“To My Better Angel” is completely jarring following the lullaby-like “Two Zero Zero.” Renfroe sounds frenzied behind the drums while bassist Jake Fisher lays a nice, subtle underbeat. The lyrics are some of the album’s more interesting, talking about trying to get out of a small town, and follow through throughout the song: Torres starts off with a refrain of “So if anybody talks of me, tell them I am never coming home again. Tell them I am gone…” while begging the operator to hurry since he can’t wait much longer, but by the end of the track the music becomes more frenzied and the lead singer snarls “So if anybody talks of me, tell them I’ll be gone forever without these scars that are completely invisible.”

The smart lyrics continue on “Between Horns and Halos,” the perfect song to really see how smart the band’s writing can be. The opening lines “Looking out of a second floor window, planning out my exit wound” directly juxtapose the same theme later in the verse, “Trying on a makeshift halo, kissing on my exit wound.” The idea of alienation with a lover isn’t just presented, but almost drawn like an artist:

“She felt so cold, so cold,
She froze under the sheets while I slept all day…
She will sleep here
In between the cracks
Just a flower with a broken back
‘Waiting for dirty water’
Did you sleep alright?
She’s giving beat stares from being beat all day
Indian eyes in the American way
‘Hail Mary’s’ and ale … A Hailed Mary that ails…”

The juxtapose of Hail Mary’s and eventual hailed Mary is especially thought-provoking.

Not content to let the album slide to a halt, the band offers up two more rocking tracks, “Digital Me,” the disc most hard-hitting track, and “Rocket City.”

Closing out with “Rocket City,” the band continues the album’s overall theme of alienation, and feeling trapped living in small-town America: opening with the track “For Members Only”; lines in “American Living” like “things don’t get much better than this … life doesn’t get much bigger than this” and “Just teach me something so I can go”; the theme throughout “To My Better Angel”; and closing with the echoing lines of “Rocket City” “If I stay here I’ll be dying forever.”

Ultimately, “Pollyanna” offers up what, at first, is just a solid rock album with great vocals and lyrics. With each listen the songs become more poignant and thoughtful, and eventually the album’s full theme comes into focus. There isn’t a weak song on here and the album is well-worth checking out.