Echo Park is often noted for being one of the coolest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It boasts a long history of exceptional musical residents from Frank Zappa to Elliott Smith and its latest development – multi-national sextet NO – return this month with their debut LP El Prado. Forming in 2010 in the wake of a series of personal tribulations for each of the members and releasing their first EP Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Here Forever in 2011, NO are next in line for the kind of indie success held by fellow Brit-centric statesiders like The National and Interpol.
El Prado wears its post-punk storyteller influences on its sleeve from the very beginning. It opens with lead single Leave The Door Wide Open where Kiwi frontman Bradley Hanan Carter’s rich, Joy Division inspired baritone works against a tremolo guitar riff that sounds almost suspiciously like The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now. That being said, it builds and cascades with an impressive command of reverb-y bombast and dynamic control. The same gorgeously bleak aesthetic is sustained throughout and you kind of wonder how a record this gloomy came out of sunny L.A.
Stay With Me follows on with a gentle poise and the Brooklyn-style warehouse indie of What’s Your Name goes to show that if you’re going to remember a vocal hook on this record, it’ll be a fleeting backing vocal rather than a king-size chorus. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately there’s really nothing earth-shattering going on with El Prado. It’s mostly capable indie-rock with nothing to really set it apart from the scores of bands who have perfected this style over the last decade.
Things pick up a little with Monday – which still sounds a little like a revamped Lost In The Supermarket by The Clash – and the layered vocals at the end of So Scared show that despite some undeniable talent, NO are yet to really find a voice of their own. The first half draws to a close with There’s a Glow and an instrumental interlude that’s almost asking for a lawsuit from Billy Corgan for how much it sounds like the intro to Tonight Tonight.
All this being said, NO can still write a decent pop song, as evidenced by their keen adherence to traditional song-structure on Another Life. It’s just a shame that virtually every song, case-in-point The Long Haul, is treated as a whisper-to-a-scream experiment starting softly and ending in a reverberated cacophony. Same goes for North Star however the light and shade on Last Chance refreshingly bucks the trend and does incredibly well.
The cinematic lighter-waver Hold On has some massive drums and stadium-filling “woah-oh-ohs” that will surely hold the band in good stead on tour as their audience grows and the set rounds out with Go Outside which sums up the set well.
It’s pretty clear that this is an album of heartfelt stories to follow rather than songs to jam out to, and to this end it achieves its purpose. It’s just a shame that almost every track sounds alarmingly like something you’ve heard before. This could be deliberate, but the result sounds like a band with something worthwhile to say, but who haven’t found their own way of saying it yet.