Netherlands – Severance Review

Netherlands has been kicking, screaming, and blowing out subs with furiously fuzzed twangs for a little over ten years now. Up until receiving this promo for their seventh album, Severance, I had no idea this band existed. Powered primarily by Brooklyn native Timo Ellis, ever busy with various groups (Cibo Matto and Morningwood, to name a couple) ranging from power pop to stoner rock to art rock, Netherlands explores the loudest and proudest of what the multi-instrumentalist has assembled over the years. Pairing again with the dutiful rhythm section of New York like-minded psych/stoner act Trip Villain for the recording of Severance, Ellis seems to have found an off-the-wall groove that simply works. Or, at least it has to this point. While not a major departure in the Netherlands sound, does Severance hold its own?

Well if you, like me, had never heard Netherlands up until this point, then now’s as good a time as any to hop aboard. Though loudness and abrasive intrusions remain an integral part of this act’s rowdy sound, so too do rock-steady rhythms that develop hypnotic cadences beneath the chaos (“Omisha,” “Severance”). And reminding me of earlier Cave In works—including Ellis’ alternative-leaning wail—Netherlands can turn down the lights with an of Montreal-style psychedelically-crooned ballad (“Silencio”) while still maintaining the urge to make a guitar bwwwwrrr like a stuttering timing belt. So is it metal? In spirit! Is it noise rock? Definitely a touch! To unsuspecting ears Severance could easily come off as an unforgivingly distorted mess—and it is. But in Ellis’ capable hands, this slam dance of alternative rock laced with industrial speaker rattling works.

Whether from experience or unspoken chemistry, Ellis crafts compositions in which he and his performers can flex and breathe while finding moments to let loose. That does not mean these songs are comfortable by any stretch though. The lyrical content alone will push some buttons like on the ode to animal rights “Animal Instincts.” However, starting with a crippled guitar growl that rips into squeal-frequency slides, it’s frighteningly easy to hear the rebellious zoo of noises and fight alongside the pummeling noise. Similarly, Ellis decries systemic nepotism with mid-album banger “Goons” but does so with the most pneumatic and throttling ostinato that guides us through clamor and decree. Plenty of other songs scrape away sanity just through sheer noise and volume (“Sicarrivallio,” “Swimming Dog”), so Ellis aims to disarm your defenses by including nods to familiar rock moments—a tapping guitar run (“Severance”), a guitar modulated only by chorus (“Celia’s Mansion”)—it can’t all be noise!

Some of it is noise though, and though Netherlands maintains a widely traceable pulse, its lesser moments come off as underdeveloped. Though there’s an ominous creep to the grumbling throb of the introductory “Sicarrivallio,” it drones well past establishing an atmosphere and into wandering. Additionally, shorter tracks like “Swimming Dog” and “Glow Stick,” the latter of which is just a chaotic noise rock jam, feel directionless against their more formed peers. The awkward position of those tracks, at least, allow the biggest hits “Oshima” (which sports an uncanny Jane’s Addiction nasal yelp and blues rock swagger) and “Goons” stand even taller. But that’s not really a task those tracks should have to achieve. Initially, too, I thought the slow-down conclusion (“Silencio,” “Celia’s Mansion”) to be off-putting, but repeat listens have grown that section into a whimsical favorite—definitely the kind of numbers built to wave off for the night in a sticky dive bar.

As the sketchbook of a practiced and busy mind, Severance continues to flip the pages of a successful discography for Netherlands. And with an energetic cadence that pushes just beyond 37 minutes, any minor stumble washes away in the light of the brightest beats. Ellis lays his playbook open and squirming with a wriggle that can easily hook new fans while offering plenty of new nuggets for veteran ears. An artist as wild and multi-faceted as Netherlands often threatens to go off the rails, but, against better judgment, they stay on long enough to remain in the listener’s good graces. So pop on Severance, flip a chair or two, and dig around the Netherlands back catalog when you’re done—and don’t forget to crank the volume knob.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 31st, 2023

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