Gig Review: Nanook of the North – Stag and Hounds, Bristol – 22nd January 2014

'Panda Eyes' - Nanook of the North's new single out now. Artwork painted by Sean Billy and designed by Polly Love.

‘Panda Eyes’ – Nanook of the North’s new single out now. Artwork painted by Sean Billy and designed by Polly Love.

Review by Hannah Bailey – Originally hailing from Cardiff, Bristol-based quartet Nanook of the North is a hard act to define. They take their name from a 90-year old silent film about the Inuits of the Canadian Arctic; they call themselves an indie band, and made up of a collection of musicians whose ages seem to span twenty or thirty years! But their sound is as hard to categorise as their look: one minute dystopian reverb-fuelled bleakery, the next mixing The Smiths and Joy Division and the next country-tinged folk. Nothing wrong with a bit of experimentation of course, but for a band this early in its career it can risk sounding unfocused and lacking in polish. Playing first on the bill – at the Stag and Hounds in Bristol as part of the Free for All festival, a month long series of gigs which are also being held at The Mother’s Ruin – is always a tough one. And they had some technical problems with the drummer’s snare, meaning they had to borrow one from another band for the second song of their set. The band is clearly going for a moody, atmospheric feel to both their music and their live appearances, with little visible except for a blue florescent light behind, and the overall sound lacked balance within the acoustics of the venue. But the room was pretty much full, and there were some interesting moments: catchy guitar riffs and abstract vocals of their eponymous opening number (once it got past the discordant dystopian bit) had echoes of classic Pink Floyd rock. Though it has to be said, it shared something of that band’s well-earned reputation for self-indulgence, too, with those riffs getting a little lost in the repetition of the background vocal refrain. Their second (new single ‘Panda Eyes’) and third songs sounded more lively (in relative terms), with thoughtful Morrissey type lyrics. The last was an unusual and perhaps lengthy mix of country-tinged folk with keyboard effects and metal guitar solos. I’d say – on the basis of this gig – the recorded versions of their tracks are (partly understandably) much more polished and accomplished than their live versions, showing more restraint in the use of tricks like reverb. While I accept they may have struggled to get the sound right as the first act on, I think they need to do much more to make themselves stand out from the myriad paint-by-numbers indie bands out there. Nanook’s debut single Panda Eyes is out now and can be downloaded here.
You can find out more about the band at nanookofthenorth.co.uk

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