If his sprawling online writings are any indication, Brian Coates, frontman for the slowcore group The Great Northwest, has a head full of so many ideas, it's impossible to silence them. It's not a frenetic burst of creative energy, but more of a steady, babbling stream, which is exactly what the band's debut album, The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest sounds like: a slow, trance-inducing cycle of neo-psychedelia.
The Widespread Reign isn't a concept album, but it is somewhat experimental. Moody and sometimes soaring, the album functions as a fantastic mix of downtempo rhythms and Beatles-inspired chord progressions, with reverb-soaked Hammond organ, shimmering guitars and trippy harmonies.
Lyrically, any narratives from The Great Northwest take a backseat to the vibrant wash of studio work. The words are often unintelligible, but a spare, more abstract approach seems appropriate for this kind of sonic opiate.
"Know What I Mean" is one of the disc's standout tracks. Opening with a simple electric piano line, the song soon melts into a dizzying head-trip, with a fat and fuzzy slide-guitar riff repeating through much of the track. It's lush, but the band keeps the mix simple, adding only a vintage synth and basic drums to the warm sound.
Brian Coates came up with the idea for The Great Northwest, a mix of up to 20 different musicians, after spending several years working at an electronics factory, where he stole company time to build his own personal synthesizers.
"I decided I'd quit my job and sit in the basement, playing with all the gear I'd acquired over time, but never had an opportunity to use due to the overtime at work," Coates says. "I started recording things I'd fuss with on cassette 4-track and old digital programs. After I was happy with a number of them, I made five copies on burned CDs and handed them out to people I held in high regard around [Portland, Ore.], including Herman Jolly from Sunset Valley; Courtney Taylor from The Dandy Warhols; Spike Keating of Swoon, now with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; and Matt Hollywood, who had just recently quit his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre."
While bouncing between Portland, D.C. and New York, Coates eventually attracted enough interest to record what became The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest, out now on The Kora Records.