Warning: It might take three or four listens, but by about listen five, you’ll be waking up humming the melodies to some of these songs without even realizing you’re doing it. You’ll hear the record begin and wonder where the time went when, eight tracks later, it’s over and you’re still waiting to find that one bad song that reminds you of where you are in the listening process. You will press repeat. And there will be nothing you will be able to do about it.
New God’s “Firework” is so subliminally infectious that there should be a law against this type of accessibility. The catchiness comes in almost every indie form imaginable: Slow. Fast. Groovy. Loud-to-soft. Soft-to-loud. Live instruments. Processed bleeps. Happy. Sad. Tiny. Huge. Take whatever formula your cooler flannel-wearing cousin adores and these guys have perfected it. It all amounts to what Bon Iver and the Beach Boys would sound like if the former got excited and the latter grew up reading Pitchfork.
Actually, it’s the presence of Brian Wilson’s ghost that makes this set so darn unavoidable. “Summer Girl,” perhaps the most pop-radio-ready of the bunch, pulls from anything the California icons released between 1962 and 1966 all the while updating the bubble gum formula with a slew of processed sounds that make sure your head doesn’t stop bopping. Try to avoid it all you want, but the subtle walk-up riff that comes by every two lines in the verses is the kind of stuff meant to be heard by billions, not millions.
Ditto for “In a Flash” and “I Know Something About You,” a song so laid back, you feel like you could fall asleep in the lush vocal harmonies that haunt each chorus. Singer Kenny Tompkins turns up the SoCal influence as the second verse gains momentum and those layered voices paint a picture warm with welcome. “Flash,” meanwhile, is a tiny, little piece of early ‘90s alt rock that should have been written in Seattle. Understated and charming, it serves as a great companion to the tribal influences that pop up elsewhere.
Like on “Demon Chant,” which feels like it could have been a C-side to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Handclaps and live drums eventually overtake processed vocals but not before the beauty of everything you’re hearing shines brightly. Speaking of West, though, “More” has enough hip-hop influences to warrant such comparisons, and it works with near-expertise. Maybe the record’s most interesting track, it’s anchored by an imaginative back-beat that wouldn’t be out of place in a production of “Stomp.” The best part comes at about a minute-and-a-half when some Tony Banks-like synth lines drop with so much authority, you’re tempted to break out a listen of “Home by the Sea.”
Tompkins, along with his brother Curt, succeed the most, however, when they use hymn-like qualities and match them with their blend of what they dub “wizard pop.” “Ocean Hum,” for instance, should come with a scripture reading. Fueled by little more than the beat of a drum, the singer flips the switch on his sunny harmonies from light to dark and the monotone hums create unparalleled atmosphere. Better yet is the story being told, a reflection on encountering the ocean as a baby. It’s a perfect storm of narrative, ambiance and approach, and it’s mesmerizing on every level.
In fact, mesmerizing is a great word to describe New God and an even better word to describe “Firework.” Where their previous set, “Motorcar,” felt over-reaching at times, this is a set of tone-perfect compositions. It’s as though they made a concerted effort to expand their horizons but still managed to stay true to their imagination. This thing feels fresh, but calculated. New, but old. Original, but influenced. And matured, but naive.
In short, it feels like a band coming into itself as best it can. And if “Firework” amounts to one giant step forward, the wait between now and the next big leap will seem like ages.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***