ALBUM REVIEW: New Model Army “From Here”

New Model Army "From Here" album cover

New Model Army “From Here” album cover

Few bands remain active for 39 years, fewer still remain relevant after four decades and only a handful age gracefully, channeling the years of life’s experiences and trials into mature works that better the “prime” years of their career. New Model Army are one of those select handful of artists who are getting better with age. And with From Here (the band’s 15th studio album by my count) they have maintained the artistic honesty and excellence they set for themselves since their formation in 1980.

The songs for From Here were written quickly over a two-month period and recorded even faster in just nine days so the album has a feeling of spontaneity and freshness that breathes energy into the material. The album was recorded at Ocean Sound Recordings on the tiny island of Giske off the Norwegian coast. This remote location was, according to the band “Bleak, open, cold and rugged” and a perfect place for them to create something collectively, with each member inspired in his own way, by their surroundings. New Model Army guided once again by producers Jamie Lockhart and Lee Smith have graced us with a truly exceptional, and very special, set of new material.

New Model Army; press photo

New Model Army; press photo

Although recorded in just nine days From Here is anything but sparse. It is a complex and nuanced work that holds up to repeat listens, in fact it actually gets better the more you hear it, each layer of sound weaving into and out of the mix at just the right moment with everything held together (as it always is) by Justin Sullivan’s words and passionate vocal performances (honestly I think I’d pay money to hear this guy sing the phone book, he’s that good).

So, let’s talk a little about the songs that make up this fine set. I’ve picked three of my favorites although ANY of the tracks could be your favorites. Every song is strong, and this is a “no-filler” collection with a cohesiveness and unity that make it into a satisfying complete experience.

Where I Am is simply classic New Model Army – This one could have been slotted on one of their mid-eighties releases and it would have sounded right at home, with its acoustic/electric guitars and vocal intro leading the charge. When the drums kick in at about the minute mark the song shifts into high gear and by the time the sing-along chorus burrows its way between your ears you have a new favorite New Model Army classic to be thankful for.

New Model Army; press photo

New Model Army; press photo

Maps/Setting Sun are perhaps the songs most noticeably influenced by the inspiration the band found in their surroundings on the rugged and beautiful Isle of Giske. Maps very much captures the feeling of looking into the vastness of the Atlantic. It is both beautiful, moving and maybe just a little reflective, more a tone poem than pop song, with guitars and cellos (?) accented with drum rolls, cymbal crashes and lyrics about old sea sailing charts that are “filled with pictures of strange sea creatures”. The song segues quietly, and dare I say perfectly, on a wave of subdued feedback and a repeated guitar into Setting Sun which immediately sets off on a more upbeat note with a rocking drum beat and reflective almost whispered vocals. These two songs, although separate works, join together so seamlessly they almost feel as if they were conceived together as a whole.

So, after 39 years New Model Army have released an album that sounds fresh and exciting as if it had been released from a group just few years into their career. How do they do it? Certainly, by following their own muse and not trying to mimic the sound of whatever is currently on the pop charts. But I think maybe they do it mostly by putting in the hard work…writing every day, touring every year (although we do miss them here in America-Please come back) and thank god for being smart enough to remain the “Captains” in charge of their own musical destiny. From Here is another classic from New Model Army guaranteed to rank in the upper echelons of their already impressive body of work.