“Sonic wave / You’re favorite noise” croons John Harlan Norris against a massive reverbed twang on “Daffodil,” the first song on Night Loop, the third full-length album for his band Harlan. It sounds like a complete vision for the record, like one of those novelty gel-capsules that turn into a dinosaur or monster when you add water.
Harlan rolls like that. The band started as an independent study project at LSU for painting student John Harlan Norris, a desire to transfer a young man’s obsessions with Nick Lowe and Lloyd Cole and the Go-Betweens into something of his own. This class bore the self-played, self-released The Still Beat, a record so good that area musicians flocked to him to reverse engineer the vision into a band.
Night Loop finds a comfortable brainspace between The Still Beat’s fannish idolatry and its follow-up, Spiderette’s meticulous, baroque pop. Night Loop’s music is very electro — Norris enlisted drummer/keyboard/electronics whiz Scott Campbell (Placebot, Liquidrone, Bones, the New Orleans Bingo! Show and also a celebrated poster designer) in this outing — but remains very warm, close to the moody admissions of one’s thirties.
It’s like he’s become a bigger fan of his own music and is running that through his process. The stripped quietude of “Death in the Living Room” and “You’re a Teenager” evoke the colors of his previous work while showing fewer of the brush strokes. “Sending Your Positions” is hardly there at first, but it opens like a time-lapse blooming into Spectoresque majesty.
The core of the record is found in “I Aim To Be Your Modern Man.” “Everybody gets what they want sometimes / I’ve only seen your shadow once,” Norris plaintively offers as the scene shifts with bemused grace. A few washes of synth, a subtle drum crash, and errant guitar swoops convey the modern condition of a person with all new tools setting to work up some classic pop.