Northern Portrait – Pretty Decent Swimmers EP

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It’s been almost three entire years since we’ve heard anything new from Northern Portrait, but this four song affair will make us forgive the gap between releases, as this is some of the most accomplished music the band has crafted to date.  The Pretty Decent Swimmers EP may only be a short little stop gap until a full-length comes our way, but fans old and new will surely find solace in the well-manicured pop of these Danes.

It’s early in the year, but you’re going to have to try real hard to find such a splendid piece of pop musical openings for the rest of the year.  There’s a casual entrance, building the listener’s internal tension, and then unleashing enchanting bliss at the 36 second mark.  You can sing along to the chorus of “Happy Nice Day,” aided by the perfect vocal control of singer Stefan, which never hurts the audiences ability to attach themselves to the music.

“Greetings From Paris” is an eternally satisfying track, full of literary allusions and a ringing guitar line that infects any pop lovers soul.  It’d be easy to take Stefan Larsen’s voice and make Morrissey comparisons, but this song demonstrates the softer quality of the vocals, stripped of the over-bearing sexuality.  I have to admit, I’m a sucker for monosyllabic lyrics sung in repetition like the “la la la las” that close out this little gem.

If you were wondering if Northern Portrait was going to pick up a little bit of the energy, then wait until you get to “Bon Voyage.”  The cutting guitar lines are extremely sharp, which provides a natural bit of pacing to the song…almost a dance floor shuffle.  But, like other pop classicists, The Lodger, there’s a bit of restraint, focusing instead on the harmony within the tune rather than force you to stomp your feet.  Closing out the song is a soaring bit of vocal melody and a tinkering it of piano…you don’t get better than that.

And it all comes to a grand close with the longest track, “I Feel Even Better.”  Larsen here seems to express a bit of solemnity, if only in the way he delivers his vocals.  Sure, the lyrics guide one to think there’s a bit of a reawakening, but you can hear the distant pain that the narrator had to live with at one point.  For me, the attached arrangements present in the background reinforce the pristine sound of twanging guitars that seek out your heart.  A perfect bookend to the whole listening experience.

If you aim to be frustrated about anything on Pretty Decent Swimmers then you’re going to find difficulty in that search.  There’s not a single misstep or faltering moment, but rather a complete collection of four songs exemplifying pop writing at its very finest. Cheers to you Northern Portrait: and welcome back!

Pretty Decent Swimmers is available now from Matinee Recordings.

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