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coverpic flag US - Indiana - Full Moon 130 - 05/02/07

A Double Gift Of Tongues
Secretly Canadian

Normanoak is the project of Chris Barth of The Impossible Shapes. It's a one man band with a lot of friends stepping in. He's both whimsical and gloomy, but mainly highly melodic in his work. And, as he states on his myspace site, among his influences are: armpits, friendly vegetable and herb intelligence, shifting plates of the earth. Yes, why not.

Normanoak is blurred mysticism and focused spirits, presented throughout inter-galactic psychedelic folk rock. Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) is maybe one reference from recent years, but Normanoak mainly looks back to the late 1960s and early 1970s (like Donovan). As Barth himself describes his musical journey a world: "of acorns, blood, and sacrifice, of the holy hexagram of intertwined triangles; of the holy books writ in the sands of madness; of the Prince of Cups charioting across the steady sea, eagle drawn; of the planets Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Luna spiralling through the darkness of Nuit; Of the language behind language and the seeds of the unspeakable." Right.

Album opener "Need Not Be" is a fine starter, quite laidback and lyrically 'out' ("I drink toxic fluid, and I eat poisonous food / I smoke the day away, in a hazy blaze"), while the catchy, carefully rocking "Your Love" has got a slight Bob Mould feel. Song titles like "Jupiter-Mars", "Mercury" and "Luna" (!) take us sky-high and beyond. The latter is quite extreme. "Cracker Song" (a reference to Cracker the band? Camper van Beethoven? It's sort of up that alley) is high pitch and lo-fi, and rather down to earth. While "The Next Holy Book" and "Sangre De Cristos" is of more spiritual nature.

Despite a lot of fascinating stuff, it seems a full album is too much of this type brittle folk rock. The first Normanoak album, Born A Black Diamond (2004), had some reviews saying it had too many anonymous songs (and it was just about 30 minutes long). This album isn't much longer, and some songs feels like being just unfulfilled sketches. It's just like Normanoak's music should be like, or what he's aiming at. One of the better sketches this time is the closer, "For A Fortnight". Nice. Maybe a tad more focus next time, then.

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