Premiere: Northern American, ‘Modern Phenomena’ (full album stream)


The seeds of Northern American’s uncommonly elegant debut album “Modern Phenomena” were sown in the unlikely climes of Agua Dulce, the rocky San Gabriel Mountains outpost where 15-year-olds Nate Paul and Shane Alch found themselves after their parents relocated from La Crescenta and Studio City, respectively.

The pair bonded over music like Radiohead and Sigur Rós, which “I thought fit the desert vibe,” says Paul, “although it seems like nobody else was to cool music like that.” Paul set up shop in the garage, making demos with Alch, and by the time they were 18 they were constantly holed up in his bedroom studio. “Our parents were like, ‘You guys seriously need to get your lives together,'” Paul says, “so we moved to Hollywood.”

Suffice to say that giant step did not earn parental approval, but once back on the other side of the hill, singer-guitarist Paul and keyboardist Alch reconnected with old friends, eventually aligning with bassist Augusto Vega and drummer Bruno Calenda, and Northern American was born.

The whole process of reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones, ended up serving as the underlying theme behind “Modern Phenomena” (out Tuesday via Hit or Heist Records). “We had found a studio in Chinatown and during that time our whole social network grew and grew until it almost became bigger than life in a lot of ways,” Paul explains. “The whole online existence … It was a snapshot of our lives in a lot of ways.”

The music toward which they matriculated, though, seemed oppositional to life in the digital age. The songs were laid-back but sophisticated, the approach analog, the feel (as one of the highlights of the album its titled) “So Natural.” “We like songs that are pleasant to listen to — you know, something you can get high to and enjoy,” Paul says.

||| Stream: “Record Forever” from the band’s “Happiness Hungover” EP

The pastoral feel of the park-like album closer “Elysian” is exemplary, an Americana-tinged contemplation that feels like a soundtrack to sitting on a hilltop above L.A.’s sprawl. “Your life is a movie / come along for the ride,” Paul sings wearily. Raymond Richards (Local Natives, Avid Dancer, Parson Redheads), who produced the album at his Red Rockets Glare studio, contributes pedal steel on that track. “I always thought that was a Mazzy Star kind of song,” Paul says. “And Raymond just jumped in out of nowhere; it was off the cuff … But working with him was basically like having him join our band. It was great.”

The band, now all in their mid-twenties, also found an ally in U.K.-based independent label Hit or Heist Records, which will release “Modern Phenomena” worldwide next week. Its shimmering, almost unassuming beauty speaks to the solace you can find in Los Angeles if you just let it find you.

||| Stream: “Modern Phenomena”

||| Live: Northern American celebrate their album release with a show Monday at Harvard & Stone, joined by Dutch Party and Avid Dancer (DJ set).

Photo by Ninelle Efremova