The Golden West, the debut album from San Franciscans NRVS LVRS, comes across like a difficult letter to a loved one, in this case that loved one is their native city. The band pour their collective heart out about what they perceive to be the slow but consistent death of a once cultured and creative hotspot as it succumbs to a rapidly evolving technology industry. Ironic that an industry hell bent on making everything smaller constantly needs to take over more and more space itself.
NRVS LVRS take an interesting approach to this and one that works to good effect. Whilst it might seem that the natural way to rage against this technological invasion would be to whip out the old acoustic, slap a few thighs and sing around the campfire, the band instead solder traditional and modern sounds together. The album is just as full of bleeps, bloops and a whole host of other electronic craft, as it is of your standard indie rock instruments. It’s a fusion that works for the most part.
Opener ‘City Lights’ sets the dominant tone for the album. Its gentle electronica sounds a little like The XX remixing The National. The ‘City Lights’ that Wendy is singing about are not literal as she explained in a recent Overblown interview. Rather, they represent the “negative thoughts and experiences” that were holding her back. It works in a literal sense as well, the imagery of city lights flickering in the distance along with the sombre tone of the song is unsettling. There’s a strong sense of desolation despite the population.
‘Black Diamonds’ and ‘Troubleshooters’ follow up with a complete change of tempo. The latter in particular suggests there’s a bit more rock than roll to this band with remorseless beats and screeching electrical noises that I struggle to describe, all atop a pleasant, almost folky sounding vocal melody.
Title track ‘Golden West’ brings back the creeping foreboding in beautiful fashion, probably the albums strongest track. The opening line “I had a place to live but robots came and kicked down my door” gets straight to the point and it doesn’t stray off topic. The song envelopes your ears your ears like a sonic fog enveloping the Golden Gate Bridge. Again I’m reminded of The National and can’t decide if I’m making a lazy comparison due to the low vocal and slow pace, I’ll leave that to you to decide.
‘2Young2Know’ nods towards 80’s electro, sounding something like Soft Cell battling to be heard above heavy machinery, there’s maybe just a little too much going on here. ‘My Star Turn’ does a similar job but with a lot more aplomb and is the closest thing to an outright indie-rocker on the album. The tale ends with ‘Cordoba Gray’ and we’re back in 80’s dance territory with a sizeable rocking chorus proclaiming “We’re out of time and it’s time to go”.
My description of this album makes it sound like it might not, or perhaps shouldn’t, work. Somehow it does. There’s occasionally too much clutter, perhaps a layer or two could have been taken out to clean it up a little. However, on repeated listens the melodies and pop sensibilities become more and more obvious, especially on the up-tempo tracks although overall NRVS LVRS are at their best on the moody, slower tracks.
I’m not a San Franciscan, I’m Glaswegian, but I think the points NRVS LVRS make about their town are happening in every city, albeit probably to a greater extent in the ‘major’ cities. However, I’m in doubt as to whether this is any different to any other generation complaining that things ain’t what they used to be. That said, at least NRVS LVRS are doing something about it, and they’re doing it pretty well.
The Golden West by NRVS LVRS will be released on 16th March by Hz Castle Records