Nebraska - The Path To The Silent Country

Bill Cummings 18/10/2006

Rating: 4/5

“First Russian Winter”: the wind blows, the mist rises from the icy air, the sky is pitch black, shooting shards of guitar swoop across the midnight sky, hordes of angelic vocals blast out from behind dusky clouds. Then there's a stop, the wind swirls, guitarist Benjamin Todd's picked chords cascade and the clouds clear, lead singer Michael Hall emerges from the middle distance, rugged, lacking in sleep and pulling huskies and his voice broods, as the jousting rhythm takes hold. “I would rather head in my hands/Than lay it on your chest/This is an adventure man, this is not a test.” This is the impressively vast and epic opening of Nebraska's debut album “The Path To The Silent Country.”

New Cross five piece Nebraska have been in existence for only a few short years, but in that time they have been crafting and honing a wide-screen, atmospheric space rock sound that takes in the likes of Trail of Dead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Marion, and ally it to Michael's impressive vocal range: that at one moment he sighs like a young Morrissey, or swooping like Eliot Smith, the next he's booming with all the passion of James Dean Bradfield: in short Michael has a genuinely brilliant voice, if anything he has so much range at times its like he's wrestling with himself, constantly striving to find the right style for the right track. It's true to say that the first half of this record is eminently powerful, crafted upon years of hard work, personal struggle and individual expression. The best moments are “Grey Spaces”, powerful dynamics thunder like horses' hooves in and out of a dark depression, and down into the strident pulsating edges of “A March Divine” with its stomping guitar work and Michael's urgent chest beating pleas for self confidence (“Stand up and sing/You not just anyone you're everyone and Everything!”) He can do tender too; “I'm Your Satellite” brings to mind James Dean Bradfield, as he gently claws at the heart strings before unleashing a vocal onslaught, that veers between graceful falsetto and cracked croon - by the end it all leaves him literally gasping for breath.

Then there's the amazing power of “The Sounds That Stars Make”: opening twinkling guitars hove into view, before emerging like a million shooting stars surging across the universe, then come the twitching verses “this is the sound the stars make/In my head at night its not a problem sleeping its a problem with life” and the colossally catchy chorus “Come home my love/I know you'll be there when I go!” like Ultrasound tightly wound into a huge rock proposition, or U2 without the pretension, it's already a hit in my eyes but will it ever be a hit in the real world? A song at the heart of what Nebraska are all about, huge wide-screen emotional rock that's down in the gutter staring at the stars.

The gorgeous world weary balladry of “The Day the Earth Caught Fire” moves along with a strumming beat and pleading vocals that dive in and out of unconsciousness (“Liberty Fails/Madness and Sadness and prevail”) while the crackling bass driven rhythm and lyrical cleverness of “Anhedonia” is undeniable, its tightly honed indie is highly reminiscent of Marion at their peak. Elsewhere though the picture is more mixed, the recorded versions of “One Cold Kiss” and “Faded Photograph”, although still passionately performed, don't quite reach the heights of the first half's best moments, this a constant battle for supremacy between the space rock leanings and jangling angst, and thus they end up landing between the two stools, and lyrically they don't quite hit the mark they've set for themselves. All of this is pulled round though with the brooding power of “You Are Safe you are Home” that builds and builds into a cracking crescendo of drum rolls, crushing guitars and a vocal note that outlasts the lot.

Overall this is a superb record. Consider this, without the band's own efforts this record would have never seen the light of day, which would truly be a tragedy, because at their best Nebraska show why some label should truly take the risk on them right this minute. Emotional space-rock hasn't sounded this vital in years.