North Elementary – Not For Everyone, Just For You


North Elementary - Not For Everyone, Just For You

Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s North Elementary has a backstory like many an indie pop band: it is the vision of one man who, over the course of eight years, has seen his music slowly gain momentum and favor amongst critics, while simultaneously being subjected to the frustration that comes with constant changes in personnel and record label deals. If this story resembles the trials and tribulations of many aspiring pop musicians, then North Elementary’s fourth and latest LP is not likely to cause any great shock or pandemonium. This is not to suggest you won’t find John Harrison’s Not For Everyone, Just For You a waste of time; ironically it seems to have a little something for everyone.

In most cases, the album plays like any other that you might’ve heard on your local college radio station. The production is appropriately lo-fi and dirty, meaning that the guitars, keyboards, and drums are noisy and abrasive in all the right places while Harrison’s vocals come across with a detached ambiguity not likely to be found in Top 40 radio or American Idol territory.

Yet in terms of songwriting, many of the structures to be found would be at home on any Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation. The gritty power pop of “You Have A Heart” exploits a chord progression (I-V-vi-IV) that Rick Springfield used most famously on “Jessie’s Girl.” It was also used gratuitously by many post-grunge (Bush) and punk-pop (Blink 182) acts in the late 90’s. The album’s opener, “Decade Stylin’,” features another diatonic chord structure that sends things toward standard pop fare, with soaring lead guitars that hint at far more grandiose clichés never to be fully realized. Can pop music ever really succeed without a convincing vocal melody? Were it not for the six minute length, “Ones In Love” is the album’s only obvious candidate for a radio single. Featuring gargantuan drums and an arpeggiated guitar/keyboard line that Keane, Snow Patrol, the Fray, and Coldplay would all be proud of, the track goes for broke at the chorus when layers of crunchy overdubbed distortion and razor-sharp synths take charge. It all sounds so familiar and trite, and I’m all the more ashamed because I absolutely love this song.

At the other end of the spectrum is a song like “Golden Tigers,” which has just enough gentle twang and hazy atmosphere to grab the ears of any Neko Case fan, sans jaw dropping vocals. The same is true of “XXXmas Head,” the sprawling and mellow closer. The song tends to meander in its own sleepiness, enshrouded by weepy keyboard leads that are anchored by a deliberately strummed acoustic guitar. Regardless, it still stands as the most beautiful song on the entire album.

“Medical Sunset” is an unexpected treat for this LP: channeling the vibe that Wilco established on their last album Sky Blue Sky, the track features a keyboard rhythm that is as buoyant as it is distorted. As Harrison sings that, “This is just my mistake, don’t let me mess it up,” you can’t help but recall Jeff Tweedy on “Hate It Here.” Unfortunately, Harrison’s understated vocal delivery (which is an understatement unto itself) also yields a far more pained imitation of the Wilco frontman on the song “Speed Of Lies,” a nondescript midtempo number that finds him completely world weary as he sings, “I hope this lasts more than a day / these things just seem to go away.”

In the end, it’s clear that Not For Everyone, Just For You isn’t nearly as eclectic as the title would lead you to believe. Certainly though, credit is due to John Harrison for crafting a disc that manages to sound just a bit like everyone else in the genre without ever completely giving into the trappings of a tribute band. The dude can definitely write a catchy hook and obviously knows how to sculpt the perfect pop nugget. I’m just wondering if anyone will notice that none of it sounds terribly original.