“Two Brothers: Playing Music, but Not Normal Music that You’ve Heard Before, And Also a Newer Album that Does Sound Like Some Stuff You’ve Heard, as Well as Some Cool Videos”
That’s what the title would have been if it weren’t way too long. What can I say, Baltimore natives New God inspire a little outside-the-box thinking.
Curt and Kenny Tompkins made an impression with their 2012 debut album Motorcar. The lo-fi record brought a nice blend of indie, electronic, and folk with a solid driving energy. Its blissful harmonies drew comparisons to The Beach Boys. Wilco at times, Dan Deacon at others, Motorcar was a refreshing blend of catchiness and creativity.
The brothers followed their pleasant opener with another strong showing, 2014’s Firework. The album demonstrates a couple changes, but not all of them are objectively for the better. The album does sound a little better—it has a higher production value. However the lo-fi sound of the first record is so good that it leads to a small step up. Firework sounds better, but not that much better.
More importantly, the great energy of Motorcar is not present. In upping their production quality, New God made Firework sound a little more mainstream. The interesting and unique blend of sounds present on their first record is toned down. While the melodies and harmonies are still super strong, the songs are less dynamic. Where Motorcar feels live and real, Firework can feel a bit canned.
Firework is also notably more downbeat, but this isn’t why the energy is lacking. One of the best tracks on Motorcar is “Liar Liar,” a slow burn of acoustic guitar and vocal harmony, evocative of Fleet Foxes or Peter, Paul and Mary. The song feels very present and very personal. Firework has a sort of gloss-over that imposes a distance between the band and the listeners.
Firework does have some high points. Much of the album was written and recorded in an abandoned racquetball court, lending a spacy reverb to some of the tracks, most notably the closer, “Dumb.” This effect gets blended with clean electronics to create nice soundscapes. There is also the catchy-as-fuck single “Summer Girl.” Really the only driving song on the album, a simple back beat compels the airy vocals forward. Fuzzy guitars provide snappy riffs to grab on to. This is where New God is at their best: soaring harmony driven by danceable rock beats.
“Summer Girl” also highlights the band’s knack for good, low-budget music videos. Green Screen images of 50’s/60’s summer fun slide across the background and the brothers’ sunglasses. The classic imagery highlights the band’s early Rock ‘n Roll influences, while the obvious use of technology illustrates their use of electronic sound. “I Know Something About You” shows another creative use of green screen. A couple with cardboard TV heads (very reminiscent of the robot royalty from Saga) “performs” the song while images flash across their faces. While it’s a great visual concept, that is about all the video has to offer. As with the album Firework, it needs a little more variance and/or substance to make it a true journey.
New God has shown us that their creative ceiling is very high. The two brothers are working on their third album, and hopefully this creative streak will overcome the tendency to move toward the mainstream. If they can find a way to capture the great energy of the first album, while upping the general production quality, we could all be in for a serious treat.