A Guest House is always a temporary lodging, a place where a traveler or a visitor settles down briefly before getting on with the rest of their road, and for the past three years, a guest house was the rehearsal space that L.A.-based Indie Rock quartet ‘Not From England’ chose for themselves. It was a stopgap arrangement, a sort of liminal space for their career as they sorted out a bunch of different things both personal and relating to the band’s future. During their time in the titular Guest House, they would end up pouring their innermost thoughts and anxieties into an album that’s all about figuring themselves out after a period of inevitable changes.
The songs were mainly recorded in a bedroom in Culver City, self-produced and engineered by the band and mixed/mastered by FIDLAR’s Max Kuehn in Highland Park. The songs feature vocals from all four members for the first time as well as a rotation of instruments and styles throughout the album’s 12 tracks.
The constant rotation and mix-up -particularly as far as vocals go- is certainly a very uncommon approach, one that worked marvelously for the band on two levels. On one hand, the fact that you hear a different voice and a slightly different style in most songs certainly keep everything feeling fresh and impossible to predict. On the other hand, the night-confessional nature of some of the tracks, and the overarching theme of changing and moving forward are illustrated to perfection by the sheer variety. “Guest House ” is above all things, a testament to the band’s creative chemistry, concatenation, and proficiency.
Like many albums, even those where songs are more loosely connected, “Guest House” follows a kind of narrative pattern, with each song feeling like its own little vignette featuring the four-man cast with one specific protagonist singing to us his perspective while the rest of the band serve supporting roles.
A credit to the diversity of styles and moods that the quartet incorporates in their work is found in the very first track of the album, “instigator”, a song with a late 60’s garage rock flavor with a hint of spy thriller soundtrack. “Instigator” opens on themes of anxiety, a fear of being left behind by a significant other, and “Runnin’ outta time” to even react to it all. With this opening statement, you can also perceive a lot of the influences that permeate the NFE sound, as well as become immediately acquainted with one of the most powerful tools in the band’s entire arsenal: The fantastic basslines.
While “instigator” is a strong opening with a kind of anxious and moody, “Something to do” is a much lighter and sunny track, closer to a fast-paced Jangle Pop and vocals set to a cool Slacker’s Facade. These two tracks somehow feel like a bit of a misdirection, almost like the band is dipping their toes in the water of their own deeper creative energy with a slight aloofness that also prepares the listener for the Third track and the first deep impact of the album: Rest Of It.
I understand why “Rest Of it” was selected as a promotional single, it’s a great song and Not From England at its current finest. But I think that In the context of the album, it’s best left as a surprise for the listener because It’s when things really get serious for the band. The song is not particularly heady or difficult to process, it’s not some grand painful statement about emotional turmoil, but it is very real and ultimately very powerful. “I can’t decide what I’m supposed to do For the rest of my life” is such a simple combination of words, mundane even, yet it feels so liberating and compassionate to finally hear them sung – and with such genuine and earnest intent as well.
The titular track, “Guest House” comes a little earlier than you’d expect. It’s a rather progressive and unorthodox track full of great rhythmic phrasing that reminds me a lot of Kings Of Leon’s “King of The Rodeo”. Again it reinforces the full range and keen ear for variety and seasoning that the band employs. “Guest House” Seems to deal with dreadful feelings of futility invading the remnants of a once-deep connection between two people, and it elaborates upon the themes of feeling at a loss that were brought up in the previous song.
“Red Lights” and “Good Morning Thieves” both lean a bit more on the post-punk influences of the band and both offer some phenomenal vocal performances in that regard (which may or may not be everyone’s cup of tea. know to approach this band and their album from the correct angle). Meanwhile, the quiet guitar ballad “Nylon Pipes” is a completely new experience in the album so far, a paradisiac and melancholic change of pace that serves as an interlude for the album. “Nylon Pipes” comes almost out of left field, as it slowly develops into something akin to a minimalistic Bossa Nova guitar piece that has little to do with the rest of the album in stylistic terms, but whose mood blends right in.
“Don’t get me wrong” is another standout in the album similar to “Rest Of It”. The song -particularly in its vocal performance- is a fascinating look into the band’s musical DNA. By now it must be pretty obvious that Not From England is a self-referential name that describes the fact that the band is highly and primarily inspired by several related eras of British music, in particular, the umbrella that covers so-called “Brit-Pop” and Indie rock. Tracing back the roots of all of the bands that surely you can imagine have influenced NFE, you’ll inevitably encounter The Smiths as a precursor to the band’s own precursors, and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is almost like an atavistic expression of this lineage then crosses over into harsher and heavier rock sounds.
“Beach Night” is almost exactly what it says on the tin, and it opens up like the last few moments of dawn at the beach. “Blue Bird” swims in more post-punk waters once again, and it signals the climax of the album, upping the ante in sheer speed and loudness before bursting into “Jura”, an even more punk proposal that tackles feelings of deep isolation and perhaps even dissociation.
If “Don’t Get Me Wrong” reminds you -as it did me- of The Smiths, then the final track, “In town” will feel like a full-on homage. I cannot say for certain how big of a direct influence that legendary band has been on Not From England, but I think it’s deeply there, whether they realize it or not, especially in the highly emotive and forward vocal performance that -to me- resonates in the same sentimentalist wavelength as Morrisey’s.
Though the band’s own self-description states that they Pay homage to the post-punk scene and 2000s rock greats. I think that their own musical acuity and thirst for exploration have landed them one step above their own inspiration and admiration of all things British, especially the aforementioned “2000s rock greats”.
Above all, while there’s been much talk about homages and inspiration, let us not forget that Not From England is its own band, they are their own musicians and nothing that they’ve come up with in this album can ever be accused of being unoriginal or derivative. At a very young age -they’re all practically teens still- they’ve managed to cast themselves onto the scene with an astonishing debut album that can give older musicians a run for their money on sheer quality alone.
Story: LADYGUNN Photos: Courtesy of the artist
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