NTEP by Nontourist (Review)

Background music best reserved for walking down dimly lit hallways with an escaped mental patient about to leap out from behind any door.
NTEP - Nontourist

Sometimes, new bands try too hard, to make an indelible statement with their very first release. Or maybe they just get too ambitious, reaching for the brass ring from the word “go.” Occasionally it works and something magical occurs, but let’s face it… most new artists aren’t going to save music with the first hit off of their self-released EP, regardless of how much they may advertise to the contrary. I think that’s why I like Nontourist (a.k.a. Chicago resident Andy Kamm) as much as I do. He isn’t trying to make anything new or revolutionary. Quite the contrary, actually.

Although Kamm has played with more pop-oriented groups like ExtraVery and Carbonfour, Nontourist largely eschews that for an electronic-based, more downtempo/trip-hop-oriented route. You immediately get a sense where Nontourist is heading within the first seconds of “You’re Still Okay.” A sparse, piano melody winds its away over a subdued bassline and sharp rhythms. Perhaps the closest comparison might be the calmer moments in Third Eye Foundation’s music, right before Matt Elliot unleashed the ghoulies, tortured kittens, and haunted playgrounds. It’s background music, best reserved for walking down dimly lit hallways with an escaped mental patient about to leap out from behind any door.

“Avoid Separation” and “Lay Across” delves deeper in Nontourist’s Bristol influences; you almost expect to hear Tricky’s sinister whisperings come in amidst the songs’ staggered, echoing breakbeats, reverbed keyboards, and eerie field recordings. For the large part, Nontourist’s music is instrumental. But when vocals do appear, as on “Alpine,” and to a lesser extent, “Thursday,” they’re used more for atmosphere than anything else.

Both tracks feature Tanya Reed and Brenna McLaughlin’s exotic jazz singer routine whilst cooing over Nontourist’s beats. It may sound like the stereotypical downtempo setup, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It worked great on Mus’ first album, and it works equally well here, especially on “Thursday,” which occasionally throws in a nice drum n’ bass flourish to keep things interesting.

The EP’s closing track wraps things up on a slightly brighter air, with more upbeat textures and Reed’s vocals appearing alongside the crackling beats. Thankfully, however, they don’t completely disrupt the darker aspects of Nontourist’s music that I find particularly appealing.

I’d be lying if I said this was particularly innovative stuff. There are times when Nontourist’s beats get a bit repetitive, or obviously of the Fruityloops persuasion. But that aside, it’s still solid and well done, especially for a young release. If Kamm is still adhering to the same basic sounds after a few more releases, I’ll be pretty disappointed. But I don’t think I need to worry. This EP gives him a good start, and plenty of material to build upon in the future.

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