Part of an ongoing series of posts in which I write about online music releases by Lehigh Valley bands.
In the last installment of From the Valley, I confessed my love for high-school garage bands.
College bands are a little dicier. The kids get older, they start reading European novels, they start wearing black, they start getting all serious. And somewhere along the line, they lose the jive.
Nam Le may be deadly earnest. And, they may use the impenetrable label “post-hardcore” to describe the noise they make.
But the Muhlenberg College quartet still lands on the right side of the divide with its self-titled album, which showed up on Bandcamp only two days ago.
On their eight tracks (seven, really — one song is an instrumental that lasts about as long as a cube of bouillon in a bowl of hot water), Nam Le rocks with power, energy and well-drilled musicianship.
Slamming in at 1:44, opening track “Buried” is one of the few songs I’ve heard in a while that actually made me wish it were longer.
“Chambered,” at 3:21, is the album’s longest song; and I could have stood some more of that one too, particularly the gentle, ringing, mesmeric sections that nicely offset the hardcore (sorry, post-hardcore) roar.
Just past the album’s halfway mark, on the curiously titled “Raw Dog ABE 2012” (I’m guessing it’s a reference to Lehigh Valley International Airport), hardcore-style screaming starts making its way into more and more of the vocals.
That’s where Nam Le lost me a little bit.
I’ve never liked the open-throated punk-scream style of singing. It wears thin quickly. It’s been done so often that it doesn’t really connote all that much energy. And, in some cases, I suspect it is an easy alternative to writing actual melodies — playing tennis with the net down, as it were.
Closing track “Shattered” opts for the wounded howl pretty much all the way through. I hesitate to criticize it — it is a matter of personal taste, after all, and the young man at the mic might be opening a vein — but “Shattered” is the one song on Nam Le I have trouble listening to.
Not every song goes that way. “Acton-Boxboro” (a school district in the northwest suburbs of Boston — given the lyrics about “leaving home,” I’m guessing it’s someone’s alma mater) ends with a group vocal, or perhaps a single singer overdubbed a couple times for a singalong effect. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine it’s an entire graduating class singing along. It works.
This is not music for 40-year-old men, and on a certain level I don’t connect with it; I feel like I listened to the whole thing through an invisible wall.
But that’s not particularly Nam Le’s fault. These guys are pretty good at what they do — good enough to make me come back for repeated listens. And that doesn’t happen often in this style of music.
(Whatever you choose to call it.)
Nam Le’s self-titled album is available as a name-your-own-price download here.