Norfolk and Western The Unsung Colony

Featuring dreamy textures and heady imagery, Portland’s Norfolk & Western have composed a wondrous record with The Unsung Colony. Without the literal bent of Sufjan Stevens’ "50 States” series, Norfolk & Western carve out 12 uniquely American narratives here, as personal stories and individual anecdotes speak to the state of the union. Eclectic soundtracks that play at folk, pop, and indie rock but never really commit to any one style bolster the partnering "The Longest Stare” and "The Shortest Stare.” City names and landmarks dot achingly heartfelt travelogues like the alt-folky "How to Reel In” and the Steinbeck-inspired "The New Rise of Labor,” which finds lead singer Adam Selzer sounding like John K. Samson fronting an explosive bossa nova band. A bright mix of instrumentation, including horns, keys, strings, accordion, saw and banjo, augments inventive use of guitars and drums throughout this record. There’s a resigned quality to ambient pieces like "Researching La Dolce Vita,” and it speaks to the band’s comfort in musical experimentation. There are certainly echoes of Pavement running through ballads like "Drifter” and even "From the Interests of Few,” but this has more to do with Selzer’s deliberate drawl and the occasional guitar peels he sets loose than particularly quirky arrangements. With unique instrumentation and compelling lyricism, The Unsung Colony is a welcome surprise and Norfolk & Western are certainly worth seeking out. (Hush)