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  Southern Rescue Trails  
  North Elementary  
  307 Knox Records  
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When a press release for an album comes out and states "Clarity is overrated," it's usually a safe bet that the record in question may be a mixed bag. Therefore, upon coming to North Carolina band North Elementary 2010 release Southern Rescue Trails, I was expecting a disjointedly unfocused offering from a band that had perhaps not figured out what type of music they wanted to make.

But I was wrong. Southern Rescue Trails does have a few moments which seem a little bit out of place. But nevertheless, despite certain changes of tone and pace, the record hangs together as a whole, based on the unity of John Harrison's vocals and song-writing and enhanced by some amazingly catchy keyboard/organ work.

The first track, It Comes to Everyone, begins with an epic-sounding organ that is emphasized by effected guitarwork. With a slightly plodding tempo and a space rock feel, the music is reminiscent of something from the British Indie scene circa the early 1990s. This is enhanced by Harrison's lower pitched vocals which are backed by at various points but what almost sounds like a choir. It's a nice beginning, albeit one that begins to drone towards a conclusion. This tune is followed immediately by Midwest Bug, which still maintains the full instrumental sound of the first track. However, in this song, the music jangles a bit more and the harmonized vocals between Harrison and keyboardist Betty Rupp gives this song a slightly twangy feel, even if speed of the beat seems like the musicians perhaps had ingested a few extra cups of coffee before recording it.

From there, Southern Rescue Trails takes its first slow turn with Sons of Turbo Town. With mournful, echoed guitars and those same droney keyboards as heard in the first two tunes, this songs really focuses on Harrison's lead vocals, which are again backed with a higher female harmony. Without the energy of Midwest Bug, the twang becomes a bit over-arching at times. Additionally, the focus on Harrison's vocals emphasizes his mannered and clipped style, which enhances the psychedelic feel. But things pick up immediately with Murder by Memory, which speeds things up and combines the drone and jangle in a more head-nodding manner.

Then things take a turn into left field with Sharp Ghost Mind. Backed with the electronic precision of what sounds like a drum machine, this tune really focuses on a slowly precise guitar riff. The relative sparseness of the instrumentation acts as a counterpoint to the off-kilter vocals. Yet, with that repetitive guitar riff, the music hangs together nicely even under its space rock gilding. That is, until the last minute or so of the song, where the guitar falls out and all that is left is the clattery percussion. Based on this tune, it comes as a bit of shock when North Elementary then present Southern Elevators, which is a mournful tune complete with banjo. To my mind, this song is rather reminiscent of one of Venice is Sinking's slowest numbers, wherein the ostensibly country instrumentation is still backed with a musical richness that keeps things from becoming too twangy.

Then, in yet another change in direction, the band comes up with War for Kicks, which manages to combine the psychedelic spaciness of It Comes to Everyone with a catchy melody. Even though the pace of the music and the focus of the instruments changes over the course of the tune, the melody, which is hammered out on that droney organs, keeps this tune from rambling off into inaccessible land. Likewise, the slowish King of Sundays manages to successfully meld its repetitive melody and the underlying strum and hum of the other instruments. In some ways, this one brings to mind the early work of a band like Knife in the Water, as the music swells and fills and combines disparate parts into a gentle whole. Finally, the album ends with Hillcrest 101, which begins with the lightest and happiest into on the whole album. Still, after the intro, the music slows down and becomes more psychedelic sounding. Yet, it has an urgency and focus that is occasionally missing from the rest of the record and provides a perfect bookend to the first song.

So, to go back that press release, Clarity is in fact overrated. Having listened to Southern Rescue Trails, I can see that the mixed bag in question is one of style and execution instead of one of recording and noise. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the band has defined itself with its sound, which provides enough distinction for me.

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