New album may be North Elementary's best

'Honcho Poncho' provides snapshot of group's live shows


North Elementarty will play Friday night at The Calico Room. Contributed photo

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 1:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 1:35 p.m.

Albums are generally a snapshot in time. But North Elementary's new album "Honcho Poncho" really is quite the snapshot. Made and recorded in six days, singer-guitarist John Harrison said if it were recorded another week it would have sounded different. Released in April on Potluck Records, "Honcho Poncho" may be their best album. Made so quickly, Harrison is still taking in what the album is and means to him.

Facts

What: North Elementary, with Lakes &
Wood, Lud
When: 9 p.m. Friday, May 30th,
Where: The Calico Room, 107 S. Front
St., downtown Wilmington
Tix: $5
Details: http://northelementary1.
bandcamp.com/

"The interesting thing about recording like this is that it's the way the band sounded playing these songs that week," Harrison said. "So there is a documentarian sense to the album which I find appealing."

"Honcho Poncho," the band's fifth full length, was made faster than any before it, and done so for creative reasons – they'd never done it before and wanted to record something that sounded more like playing songs at shows.

"Before 'Honcho Poncho' I never really viewed the live show and album as needing to correlate that much."

Immediate and at times dreamy, it's an enticing mix of carnival atmosphere, dangerous curves, new colors, and indie rock with pop aesthetics thrown about. "Way Out (Happy Here) is molasses thick garage rock Elvis Costello might make in a candy-coated psych rock band. "Eye Glass Goggles" is a steady burn with hushed vocals atop sinister organ playing and throbbing guitar playing. "Left Doubt" and the hypnotic "Devils and Jesuses" both articulate guitar work that's interesting both melodically and sonically.

Making "Honcho Poncho" quickly was beneficial. In addition to new songwriter Sean Parker on two songs, the process removed stress. With little time to overthink things recording became more fun and as Harrison explained, trimmed the fat.

"If you get stuck somewhere you just make a decision, hope for the best, and move on."

The fast and loose process affected what became a fun album. Some songs just keep bouncing along and some feel pulled from the '90s – namely the coarse but shiny "Return to Couches" and the bomb-and-be-quiet atmosphere of "Eye Glass Goggles." The '90s were formative years for Harrison – he learned how to play music and be in bands and played in the band Emily's Porch while living in Wilmington.

"I'm sure that it's ingrained in me. I think it's the same for most of the band as well. We don't put effort into that sound but I do feel it would take effort for us to not sound that way."

Perhaps it's years of experience or trust in band mates, but the expedited process of "Honcho Poncho" didn't arouse much doubt in Harrison. It became a new, refreshing experience and one where the band agreed on what they wanted before entering the studio with producer Alan Weatherhead.

"Anytime I sense I'm on a plateau creatively I have learned to step away, change things up and seek out inspiration, then return. Usually that does the trick and things really open up in ways I would have never anticipated."

Harrison has done so in the past by making solo albums outside of North Elementary. But all the albums he's worked on have become memory banks. Mention a song or an album and he'll tell you about friends, band mates, experiences, or the music he was listening to that surrounded him during that period.

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