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[Album Review] Other Americans (Self Titled) [EP]

It’s funny, the incredible effect of hearing something that immediately captures your attention from the very first second. There’s a sudden rigidity that holds you in place, an almost primal fear of what caught you, but the deep inhalation of breath and slight tingling down your neck alerts you to your own reaction: you are entranced, eyes closed and allowing it all to wash wonderfully over you.

With ‘Murdering Crows’ soothing, richly layered textures, evoking similarities to the likes of PVRIS’ stunning All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, or perhaps a more electronically infused Dead Sara, Other Americans’ opening track cannot help but immediately capture your attention. With immersive synthesizers, bluesy guitar licks, and the hauntingly soulful vocal performance of Julie Berndsen, Other Americans introduce themselves with the depth and competence of a group intent on making a stellar first impression, and when continuing into the infectious electronics of ‘Make Me Afraid’, this is an impression that seems here to stay.

Indeed, ‘Make Me Afraid’ sees Berndsen seemingly completely in her element vocally, a pleasant surprise when comparing the style of the track to her former efforts: the “sexy lounge rock” of the now disbanded Latenight Callers, but the sharp transition in style seems to have only spurred on the Kansas City vocalist even more. With Berndsen vocally carrying resemblances to the moodier, emotional delivery of Carina Round’s ‘Slow Motion Addict’, while still retaining the more upbeat, soulful belts of the likes of Lights ‘Savage’, ‘Make Me Afraid’s addictive dance-rock sees a second impression offered that captivates just as much as the first.

In stepping forward into the second act of the six-track EP, this is where things are changed up a little: switching out the all-absorbing layers of synthesizers for a more stripped back, R&B flavored direction on ‘Couple Skate’, it’s a track that takes its time in just enjoying the moment, Berndsen again completely taking the reins, while the contrasting ‘Bhangra Vampires’ explores the twangy guitar licks and upbeat percussion of an indie-pop track. Both easily stand as enjoyable additions to Other Americans repertoire, with finale track ‘Curtis’ also pursuing plenty of ‘Couple Skate’s sound and style, but the sharp contrast in direction can be somewhat jarring when considering the gorgeous, moody aesthetics of the EP’s introductory ‘Murdering Crows’ and ‘Make Me Afraid’. This being said, it can’t be denied that Other Americans have certainly pursued these tracks with the exact same devotion seen on those that began Other Americans, and these at least offer stylistic variety.

Of course, the final track of the EP to touch upon is it’s penultimate, and what lays forth stands as Other Americans most beautiful offering: with stunning opening strings and a sombre piano backing, Berndsen’s croon throughout ‘Pils’ sees the vocalist at her most vulnerable. Gently swaying back and forth, ‘Pils’ displays a perfect example of the group’s ability to evoke raw emotion, exploring more organic instrumentation while Berndsen’s delivery drifts back and forth between being almost sultry, to what seems to be complete heartbroken apathy: “Thank you for your services – I close my eyes, and I’ll be on my way.”

As a whole, Other Americans is an impressive piece of work. At its core, it’s a collection of well-produced material from a talented group of individuals, and as the group’s debut effort, is commendable. While yes, the somewhat jarring shift in stylistic direction throughout the EP can sometimes be more distracting as opposed to drawing the listener in, it’s easily forgivable when considering the group’s crystal-clear determination to create something engaging, something that differs from the norm as much as possible while still being accessible. With ‘Murdering Crows’ and ‘Pils’ being the clear highlights of an EP that delights in holding your attention, Other Americans sets the stage for what eagerly comes next, and whatever that may be, there’s little doubt that it will be extremely interesting.

Mark Stoneman
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