NOW: The Hepadaboo

The London-based outfit NOW serves up forty-four minutes of off-kilter electro-pop on its cleverly-titled second studio album The Hepadaboo. Together since 1998 and spearheaded by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Justin Paton (voice, guitar, synthesizer, percussion), the ensemble's rounded out by Angela Last (bass, voice, synthesizer, percussion), Barry Woodcock (synthesizer), Delia Barnard (percussion, guitar, voice), Richard Thomas (cello, percussion, voice), Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez (percussion, voice), and Zeeshan Sarwar (voice).

The nine-track album gets off to a strong start with the eleven-minute “Song,” which brings the group's penchant for motorik pulsation and its Stereolab-meets-Can attack into clear focus. Some nice polyphonic interplay between synthesizer and melodica elevates the track, as does the buoyant locomotive groove. The song's retro-electronic propulsion makes it sound a bit like a rather restrained third uncle to “Needles in the Camel's Eye” minus, of course, Eno's unmistakable vocalizing. The also-noteworthy “Relieve The Food” escalates into a feverish percussion-heavy throwdown bolstered by scratchy guitar riffing, synthesizers, handclaps, and ensemble vocalizing. While the krautrock influence declares itself immediately in “Song,” material such as “Here” reveals that NOW also has a jones for breezy lounge pop and sambas.

While the group is distinctive on instrumental grounds (as proven by the subtly funky mix of synths, kalimba, drum machine, and squirrelly melody-making that make up “No Feelings” and the trippy, Beach Boys-styled blend of vibes, cello, organ, and vocal harmonies in the cosmic space jam “Last”), The Hepadaboo isn't quite as strong vocally. That may surprise, given that six members of the group sing, but the lead vocals are generally rather thin and characterless—in complete contrast to the non-vocal dimension which is full of character. There's nothing wanting in the songwriting and sonic departments but the group might want to reconsider its vocal dimension. Speaking of Eno, it takes little more than a micro-second to identify his nasal twang but the same can't be said for NOW.

December 2008