A name like New God can be so many things. Suggestive. Pretentious. Egotistical. Inquisitive. Confident. Existential. Sarcastic. Controversial. Contemptuous. Turns out, it can also be the precise way to describe the sound of a band in no more than two words. That, if nothing else, is what “Motorcar,” the most recent 10-song set from the Frostburg natives, proves more than anything.
Kenny Tompkins’ pet-project is an ambitious set that succeeds to towering heights, an indie sound that owes as much to the Beach Boys as it does to Arcade Fire. The brilliance in it all is subliminal — lush vocal harmonies overshadow the versatility of the musicians at hand. One moment, electro grooves begin to take shape and the next, a tiny acoustic guitar makes an appearance and some type of neo-Nick Drake influence kicks in.
Take the country twang of “Liar Liar,” for instance. Not only does it sound like a late addition to the “Juno” soundtrack, but it also leans heavily on the kind of macabre vocals that Thurston Moore first brought to garages in the late 1980s with nothing more than an acoustic guitar as his companion. Album-closer “Happiness” falls in the same stripped-down vein, and serves as the set’s most memorable track because of its undeniable vocal beauty. “I don’t know what happiness is/I just know I want to find it,” Tompkins sings and you believe him.Don’t let those flashes of tenderness fool you, however. Some of the best moments of “Motorcar” come when the electricity is turned up and the band spreads its wings. “Drag The Lake” is indie pop bliss, with a tambourine that is equal parts essential and understated. “On And Off” picks up the tempo and distortion while synth bleeps echo Chicago rockers This Is Me Smiling’s 2007 often-forgotten self-titled debut effort.
New God’s secret weapon, though, is the consistent use of those perfectly sculpted harmonies. The record’s title track sets the tone for the entire collection as the layered vocals pay homage to Brian Wilson and his family in a moment that will inevitably set the bar for the whatever else may be written about this year. “Room In Arizona,” meanwhile, proves to be the most complete offering of the bunch as its quirky time-signature displays the group’s technical abilities and the clean guitars float delicately over the tune’s quickness like feathers suspended in the air, waiting to reunite with a pillow.
There are only a few minor missteps that are admittedly quibbles for the sake of looking for quibbles. “Sun God” is probably unnecessary and at just over a minute in length, the track is nothing more than a pretty good idea for a foundation of a song — not something to throw on a record without being fully realized. And “Mother” is a pleasant rocker, sure, but it initially comes across as more misguided than anything.
Still, it’s hard to hold any true problems with Tompkins or New God after considering “Motorcar” as a whole. Word has it that this took the guy five years to make, and you don’t have to be L.A. Reid to realize how or why it took so long — he was simply just aiming for perfection, while presumably third-, fourth- and fifth-guessing himself at each turn, doing his best to create a professionally polished end-product that would sit above its local peers. That type of time and effort worked — these 10 songs are certainly above anything else currently coming out of Frostburg or its surrounding areas.
There isn’t a single more accurate way to describe New God’s sound other than its namesake. It’s perfect for its ambiguity and its confidence, both of which shine through “Motorcar” like the sun beaming onto a dashboard in August. It will be worth keeping an eye on where Tompkins goes whenever he decides to take this thing out for a ride again.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **