Where old school country meets synth pop
On his debut album, Due North, multi-instrumentalist Liam Kazar delivers a crossover between modern synth-based music and classic country, giving way to a distinct new voice in alternative rock. The Chicago-based indie musician, also a chef in his free time, has performed with Jeff Tweedy in the past—an appropriate pairing, as Kazar channels Tweedy’s own song-writing prowess and devotion to country-rock.
On the first track of the album, “So Long Tomorrow,” similarities to groups like Vulfpeck (especially cuts like “Wait for the Moment”) are instantly found in the cheery keyboard, which ties the song together with a series of feel-good major chords. The result is something whimsical and fun, combining the near-laziness of Mac Demarco with the sheer positivity of Elton John’s faster, more upbeat tracks. It’s a tribute to artists dedicated to spreading aural euphoria and chill, regardless of genre.
“Old Enough For You” is a pure synth machine, hopping up and down the musical scale with a funky bassline in the foreground. “Shoes Too Tight” utilizes some modern-sounding electric guitar contrasted with a very raw acoustic that creates a bouncy bottom line. An ‘80s-inspired synth on top makes for a healthy mix of musical influences. Lyrically, it’s a cheeky tribute to the ‘playing-hard-to-get’ aspect of love. Kazar sings of bumblebees in the garden, wasted dreams and undying love. It’s a catchy alternative rock anthem, fit for dancing to in new boots on city streets.
“Nothing To You” is more mellow than the other tracks, with low tones in the bass and a sashaying guitar line. It feels both easygoing and matter-of-fact, reminiscent again of Demarco’s last album, Here Comes the Cowboy, in all its simple, relaxed glory. Kazar sings, “Clear as shallow water/ still inside of a dream/ you never were a stranger/ precisely what I mean wouldn’t be nothing if I didn’t mean nothing to you.”
The most raw and scaled back song, “On a Spanish Dune,” covers ethereal ground, with synths that resemble a brighter-sounding Art Angels-era Grimes or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Butterfly 3000, plus some influence from George Harrison-style country in the slide guitar. Kazar’s layered vocals in the chorus create something of a choir behind his voice as he sings about looking for a lover while imparting wisdom like “we all change with the time.”
“I’ve Been Where You Are” is instantly satisfying with its laid-back synth, a sort of buildup from the previous “Old Enough For You.” This song often repeats its own themes, which results in a feeling of comfort and familiarity to match the lyrics, such as “Your breath is short, your throat is sore/ all your dreams have turned to hopeless schemes and burn/ I’ve been where you are before.”
“No Time For Eternity,” featuring Andrew Sa, brings in more classic country flair with a lap steel guitar, sounding woodsy and delicate. The final track, “Something Tender,” is abound with key changes and a bellowing synth, creating an entire electronic world around Kazar’s story of a lover caught cheating. It’s melancholy and devastating but also strangely hopeful as each new set of chords brings about a new side of the story. Kazar keeps the listener guessing, eventually leading to an epic fanfare to close the album.
On Due North, Kazar mixes the sense of familiarity he’s found from past collaborative projects with a completely new sound, serving up 10 pleasant songs about love, joy and the concept of time. But it’s his interest in the use of synth instruments and his willingness to experiment that will inevitably set him apart from others.