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northern electric
Cruiser
Northern Electric
Devil In the Woods

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A few days ago, my mother-in-law returned from a two-week trip to Scotland (great timing, huh?). While she was there, she sent us at least one postcard a day -- but it wasn't until this morning, when the postman delivered a thick stack of them, that we received any. The United States Postal Service has a keen sense of irony.

Cruiser, if you didn't already know, are from Scotland. They have nothing to do with the Scotland of my mother-in-law's postcards -- a fantasy land of castles, moors, lochs and photogenic cattle -- but there's something in their music that suggests the same timeless, lazy stasis of a picture postcard image. I'm not saying that they're dull, mind you, but that Northern Electric goes about its business with a refreshing, almost pastoral lack of urgency, as if these songs have existed in some primal form for hundreds of years and nothing we can say or do is likely to change them. They will unfold as they've always unfolded.

Cruiser's sound, however, is quite modern. The album's first two tracks, "Personality: Goes a Long Way" and "Blown", stake their claim in an assertive flurry of insistent percussion and twittering, birdlike turntable scratching. Both songs diffuse their rhythms' nervous energy with rich string textures and the lingering, hazy drone of shoegazer-friendly guitar riffs. There's a lot of potential energy in those feedback-laden chords; they're stretched dangerously thin, like rubber bands -- and they're ready to snap back, shattering their monotonal calm with a burst of unfettered noise. "Quality" slows the pace to a bleary, droning folk jam, while "International Space Station" kicks it up again, splicing winsome strings and sleepy vocals into a tiny storm of droning guitar, keyboard-driven sound effects and reverse-gated drum and bass beats. It's the musical equivalent of lying down on an incredibly soft, comfortable bed which, just as you're falling asleep, begins to spin at such dizzying speed that you're pinned to the mattress.

You'll find the album's measure in the unaffected friendliness of its title track. Programmed beats slosh warmly against jangling acoustic guitar, delicate strings and distant horns; the warmth, the friendliness, is palpable. It's the simple, languorous pleasure of an evening spent dozing in front of a roaring fire. It's the stillness of a winter-time walk across a snow-swept field. It's the tangible, reassuringly organic presence of a herd of cattle.

Cruiser's approach makes concessions to the new millennium, but their sound is as timeless as a painting or a postcard image. Their droning melodies tug at the heartstrings, opening their arms to daydreamed flights of fancy. As the final strains of "Departure Lounge"'s bagpipe-like drone conclude, you'll feel like walking into the sunset -- but before you can do so, the danceable beats of a hidden track will move your feet in a different direction. Sunsets are for postcards; Northern Electric is for real life.

-- George Zahora
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