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Album Review: Down North – ‘No Retreat, Vol. 1’

An album that doesn’t hold back.

Mackenzie Dineen College Media Network

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No Retreat, Vol. 1, the latest Down North release, whisks soulful vocals, rocking guitar, funky bass, and jazzy drums in a tasteful concoction sure to please any pallet. 

“Heartbreaker- Jimmy James 3” is a danceable hit most notable for its complex string and key instrumentation as well as lead singer Anthony “Renegade” Briscoe’s riffing. This catchy and relatable tale of love lost features a galloping bass line and an energetic vocal delivery that listeners can’t help but dance to. If Vulfpeck joined forces with a gospel organist this would be their first hit. Briscoe’s voice combines the fine-tuned trills of Michael Jackson with Ozzy Osborne’s power and it’s a shame that the track’s vocals are mixed just a tad too far into the background. 

“Stupid Man” kicks off on a false start of sorrowful Metallica-esque guitar plucking that jumps into a syncopated flow at the 1 minute mark. Down North laments the dire state of the world, only to refute its relevance because “I’m a stupid man an the world will never change.” I am unsure if “Stupid Man” holds a mirror to our society or takes the ambivalent side of existentialism in the face of crisis. Vaguely reminiscent of reggae, the song sweeps listeners away in a current of sound as imminent as the world’s folly.

Lights, camera, action! “Hollywood” tells the tale of a small town girl headed to- you guessed it- Hollywood. The track’s blistering rock’n’roll guitar solos and licks from guitarist, Nick Quiller, are timeless. Bassist Brandon Storms shows off bass fills comparable to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and the unsung hero, drummer Conrad Real, holds it all together with a strong beat. 

“Eventually” is a bodacious and pining song about unrequited affection that rewinds with 80’s synth and a steel guitar solo. The a capella breakdown steals the limelight and showcases Briscoe’s vocal versatility. The EP’s greatest weakness is its tendency to lean on simple, romantic and often cliche lyrics. Down North’s heavenly aesthetic choices are deserving of more substantial messages in my opinion. 

“So What” is a haze of dreamy acoustic guitar, 60’s twinkles and choral accents. Storms and Real ground the spacey track with a head-bobbing rhythm. The song would be a lovely addition to any first date playlist, “So What” or sweet background for a morning jog. 

No Retreat, Vol. 1 takes inspiration from classic hits of all genres, making it accessible to a wide audience. However, the quirky and intricate details in every band member’s performance distinguish Down North from their peers. Hopefully listeners can look forward to more catchy, sassy hits on No Retreat, Vol 2.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Mackenzie Dineen is a Boston-based student writer in her senior year, working towards a degree in Entertainment Media at Lasell College. She is a firm believer that live music is life's greatest pleasure, and prefers anything heavy. She is a proud cat mother of a 2 year old black Mainecoone with thumbs, named Scarlett. If she had it her way, every day would be Halloween.

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