An Overnight Low

Originally released last November, Piccadilly, the latest record by An Overnight Low, was finally celebrated this past weekend with a release show at Empire. The album is the second in a trilogy of records named after the train stations bandleader Chad Walls visited most on a trip to Europe, the first chapter being 2014’s Euston with the final, Waverley, scheduled for later this year. Impressively, Walls and associates have actually taken trips overseas in support of the records and have received airplay from several stations across the pond.

The travel theme extends to the lyrics, which alternate between physical observations and personal ruminations, and musically, there’s some nice experimentation with different production styles utilizing snaps, strings, and voice memos. Recorded and mixed primarily by Jonathan Wyman at Halo, Piccadilly sounds great. Having caught a recent live set of the band, I was confused as to why certain harmonies existed in particular songs or why a guitar part was as loud as it was but it turns out these issues were either due to the mix or bad stage volume as these are well-written song with the layered harmonies being the highlight of many.

The second track, “Magellan with a Timetable,” feels like a song meant to be a live staple, the verses bouncing along with a unique groove and Phish-y vocals, the bridge taking a turn straight into BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business” – and I mean this as a compliment. “Strange and Singular” offers some needed edge but also has an overall Jayhawks-ian vibe and features some simple yet biting guitarwork. Opening number, “Dragonfly,” recorded by Steve Drown at The Studio, sounds like an early R.E.M. track with the singer they had before they found Michael Stipe. Well executed, catchy songs with a timeless energy that bring up a ton of questions – Who are these guys? Is this new? Old? Does everything sound like this? Who’s the lead singer?

If you take a trip to the band’s website, anovernightlow.com, you’ll see a number of beautiful illustrations by Ryan Eyestone showing an animated Walls in different situations – at the pub, at the airport, etc. So it would be safe to assume that Walls would be the lead singer, right? No. Walls is the bass player and songwriter. But who is the lead singer? To be honest, I don’t know.

Mac Coldwell, Chris Mayo, Sam Anderson and John Nunan are listed as who “An Overnight Low is/was” but there’s no clarification as to who’s doing what. The performance I attended had members switching off lead vocals on different songs but who? For which tracks? Nunan was not present but the remaining three members listed on the record’s packaging are all detailed in the online credits as Vocals/Guitar. All I know is that there’s somebody who sounds vaguely like Trey Anastasio and seems to take lead more than the others and it’s not Walls himself…I think.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that for every move An Overnight Low has made that is unique and above and beyond, there’s a contradictory decision that makes it more difficult than necessary to get close to the band. They’re working with the top people in the state, travelling to Europe, writing and recording a trilogy of albums with 10 songs on each (thus far) that feature smart harmonies, lyrics and melodies, but I don’t know who does what in the band (aside from the fact that the bassist has been illustrated) nor, for a concept fairly reliant on lyrics, do I have any certainty of what is being said save the four tracks on the website where words are provided. I’m also not entirely sure of where An Overnight Low place themselves in the greater musical scheme. Or where they think listeners are placing them. It feels like they’re creating a world of adult-alternative where Mumford & Sons never existed, which is great and all, but kind of keeps them at a distance from anything in the same vein that’s been majorly popular in the last seven or eight years.

But it’s not irrelevant, far from it, it’s just confusing. Noncommittal even. Walls and company are eager to show what they can do and/or be a part of doing something (sometimes too eager: the saccharine “Architecture”), but it sounds like they, or Walls himself, have yet to settle on the identity or purpose of what An Overnight Low is intended for. They have all the pieces in place, it’s just turning it into something that can make some sort of unique, individualized statement. It’s British-influenced guitar pop, but what? There’s some Aimee Mann here, some Beatles there, a little Wilco… but who are/what is An Overnight Low?

I’ll hold full judgement until this set is complete, the punctuations on these open thoughts may have yet to deliver themselves, but at the moment I’m sitting with a question mark.

Last modified onWednesday, 09 March 2016 14:10