Album Review: NAVVI - // EP

Local Music, Album Reviews
11/20/2014
Gerrit Feenstra

Seattle electronic duo NAVVI have enjoyed a steady climb towards full scene integration over the past year, and with the band's first EP out this week to plenty of web hype, it looks like nothing is set to slow it moving forward. Brad Boettger and Kristin Henry introduced NAVVI to the world in October of last year with the James Blake-sampling "Weekends", which took to the blogs like wildfire. The band quickly followed with the "Used to Feel" and "Glass" singles, with each track expanding the band's sonic landscape bit by bit to keep fans and spectators both guessing. A partership with Kitsuné gave the band's summer single "Speak" a fantastic push, leaving plenty of forward momentum for the band to prep a fully formed statement for their first EP release. Now, after appearing at Capitol Hill Block Party and playing shows consistently over the remaining few months, NAVVI's next step is upon us. The // EP (pronounced TWO) dramatically expands the band's sonic horizon to a point where the band really has a proper set of repertoire to showcase. Now a dozen tracks deep, the world is NAVVI's oyster, and if this is a sign of what's to come, we want to follow.

On past singles, NAVVI has occupied a comfortable and accessible place between the dark room haze of Purity Ring and the guitar-driven breakbeat cruise control of Phantogram. Really, that's a great place to be - not too dark and druggy, but also not terribly in your face with an intense break or screaming guitar solo. But rather than finding a lukewarm midpoint to settle in on, NAVVI choose to alternate between a frigid introspection and a hopeful outward-minded perspective regularly. Each of the band's prior self-released singles very intentionally has an A-side and a B-side. There is driving energy blazing down a sunset road only to be mirrored by a snowy walk home in the other direction. The dance number is always juxtaposed by a mournful wandering. There is never any halfway between. All that being said, it's entirely appropriate for NAVVI to start counting EP title at TWO. // captures the sense of duality that dominates this band from beginning to end, even with an odd number of tracks.

Opener "Perfect Speed" picks up on the road where "Speak" left off. The bright, swirling number is centered around Brad's effortless guitars, creating a hook that could suck you in for days. Kristin's vocals are as etherial as ever, begging to cherish the momentum carried forward with a lover into the sunset. The metaphor here is great - really, it's impossible to stay in one place forever, but in a constant tug of war of conflicting emotions and priorities, maintaining speed is all you can ask for. This track is a powerful statement, both lyrically and musically, and kicks // off to a great start. "LA // 3AM" darkens the atmosphere slightly without losing any of the energy that "Perfect Speed" gained in the exposition. Perhaps influenced by the band's Los Angeles live debut at Maison Kitsuné's Roosevelt Hotel takeover in April of this year, the track wanders hopeful streets, even in the dark of the night. "It keeps coming in waves", Henry sings over and over again, carrying the torch of anxiety forward with her chin up. Based on prior experience with NAVVI, we know there's darkness coming, but it's not here now. Waves, sine, cosine, minimum, maximum - there are two sides to every coin.

"PALMS" is the climax of the action on //, as things go full breakbeat on the drums, Brad gets a chance to really rip into a great hook, and Kristin gives us a winner of a live sing-along. All the elements combine to give "PALMS" a sense of twilight - anxiety at high speed, if you will. On the downward slope side of "PALMS", we get the temperature drop of "Mutual Release". Brad makes use of a very 80s aesthetic here, heavy on the synthesizer, light on the guitar, giving the track a bit of a HAERTS or CHVRCHES vibe, without ever leaving space already well-won by NAVVI. But there's no question that Kristin is the focus on this track, delivering a really heart-wrenching vocal performance, as the anxiety of the prior tracks finally makes its way underneath the skin. Sleeplessness and uncertainty dominate her thoughts, but there is comfort to be had if you look hard enough.

Closing the EP out, // reaches a moment of calm on "Stay".Where prior singles have always ended with a well-placed point of darkness ("No Lights", "Black Coast", and "Used To Feel"), "Stay" isn't as dark as it is quiet. Elsewhere on //, there are dreams to chase and city lights to lead the way and feelings of aimlessness when the dreams don't show themselves in the dark of the night. But on "Stay", there is a piece of rest. Brad shows off a whole different side of his production on this track, dropping the guitars altogether and making use of a heavily percussive, half-time hip-hop style that lets Kristin's voice take front and center. Kristin's chosen melody gives this track a weightlessness that doesn't mandate reverb. Rather, there's a resolve in her voice that isn't felt elsewhere on //. Maybe it's not closure, maybe it's not an ultimatum, but it's a breath, and on the day to day, that's all you really need to get up and do it again when the street lights go out.

NAVVI have done a great job over the last year of giving us a glimpse into their world bit by bit. Single by single, it became clearer that this duo is far from a one trick pony - the dualism takes many sonic forms, alternating between light and dark, loud and soft, fast and slow, dream-chasing and cold introspection. And all the while, the beauty is in the contrast. // gives us our clearest view yet of what NAVVI has to offer, and it's a stellar statement to make as a debut EP. Seattle had best keep it's eye on this band in the coming months.

NAVVI's // is out now! Head to their Bandcamp to grab the digital album now. NAVVI will celebrate the release of // with a show at Barboza on 11/29. Grab tickets here. They will have the EP available for purchase on cassette!

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