The Great Northwest – The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest

The Great Northwest
The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest

The Great Northwest gathers for sonic reverie on its debut, The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest. With resolute patience and stellar production, this Portland, Oregon band weaves rich soundscapes that are equal parts space rock, slowcore, and psychedelic jams. This music doesn’t come right at you. Rather, it floats out and surrounds you.

Songs gradually develop as the band indulges, slowly brushing coats of varnished guitars and keys over a repetitive, central guitar figure. Ambient this is not. The bedroom vocals and involved musicianship invites both ears.

Some of these tracks are almost drone-like in their meditation. The pace creeps, and the mood relaxes despite the compositions’ introverted tensions. The electric guitar is the star instrument, played here through multiple effects using a combination of picking styles. Understated vocals, often little above a whisper, hover over the mix. The Great Northwest’s liberal use of pedals and processing adds psychedelic overtones. The music is half underwater, half in the clouds.

The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest holds many treasures. The acoustic guitar and syrupy bass of “Chief John” start this day beneath a hazy, sleeping sunrise, and establishes the album’s unwavering pace. “Reverie” sounds brighter than its predecessor, thanks to a ringing electric guitar, thick with reverb.

Later in the album, the nearly 7 minute “Western American” offers up another acoustic guitar figure that repeats and repeats until the song starves for more sounds. Soon comes phased vocals, electric guitars, and a bobbing bass line. Up next is “Know What I Mean”, featuring a dirty rock riff fit for Jack White ‘s repertoire.

Some of the best parts come last. “Game” reveals the album’s most intriguing guitar line. And “Split” is by far the catchiest number, courting the hook with sad lyrics like, “I think I’m done with this today / it’s been fun, I’m glad to say / Kiss this world a sweet goodbye / go where the grass kisses the sky”.

The albums meditative repetition and sluggish pace won’t appeal to everyone. But patient audiophiles comfortable with spacey jams will find a lot to dig into on The Widespread Reign of the Great Northwest.

But note that this is not the Dandy Warhols, despite the PR guy’s insistent name dropping. Of the 11 musicians credited on the album, only one was a Dandy.