Northerner: I Am On Your Side
Home Assembly Music

First things first: don't confuse Northerner with Northern, the ambient outfit composed of David and Kevin Chong that issued Drawn on Infraction in 2007. Northerner is Bradford-based guitarist Martin Cummings, and I Am On Your Side is his second outing on Home Assembly following 2009's The Ridings. Cummings touches on many stylistic bases on the fifty-minute I Am On Your Side, with dub, hip-hop, post-rock, and a great deal more included, and uses his atmospheric electric guitar playing as a unifying thread.

“Hey Come On, It's Love” eases the listener into his world with a dreamy downtempo groove that's equal parts laid-back funk and hip-hop and an arrangement fleshed out with soulful sampled vocals, keyboard textures, and crystalline guitar shadings. That funkier side of the Northerner style re-emerges to good effect on “Line Noise,” which even includes subtle traces of electro and acid. On “Shipley Hush,” Cummings tries his hand at deep, rootsy dub of the Sly & Robbie kind and manages to pull it off convincingly. “Health and Safety” likewise impresses as a credible stab at late-night Detroit club music, with a lithe pulse acting as a solid foundation for his guitar flourishes and synth atmospheres. A funky variant of Afrobeat seeps into “Whistleblower,” which Cummings nicely sprinkles with marimbas and congas, and on a more languorous tip, the slow breeze of “Cala Macarelleta” plays like the sonic equivalent of a carefree afternoon spent lolling at the beach, while the slightly more energized “I Am On Your Side” captivates with its own brand of guitar-drenched dreamscaping.

I Am On Your Side is 21st-century mood music, with the emphasis squarely on mood, as Cummings largely eschews dramatic narrative development in the ten settings. That is, the tracks are less compositions than groove-based genre exercises, and though there's nothing wrong with that necessarily, some listeners will crave more. There are a few exceptions to the rule, however. A more pastoral side initially comes to the fore during “Duty Paid,” for instance, where the fusion of electric guitar and electronic programming makes Northerner and Aeroc sound like kindred spirits, but the mood shifts over the course of the piece, becoming more texturally dense and ominous as it unfolds. But generally speaking, the album would be more gripping if a greater degree of dynamic tension had been worked into its compositional structures.

March 2012