A Northern Chorus - Bitter Hands Resign (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

A Northern Chorus

Bitter Hands Resign (2005)

Sonic Unyon

Flying so low under the radar that they've been barely a blip, are a band from Ontario quietly making some amazing records while everyone walks right on by. Their fortune is likely to change for the better with their third full-length, Bitter Hands Resign. That band is a six-piece known as A Northern Chorus, and this is their most ambitious effort to date.

From the beautiful illustrations in the liner notes, to the gorgeous lyrical imagery, to the Sigur Rós-like vocals, the entire package depicts such a thought out and well executed product, it's a wonder people haven't caught onto this band sooner. It all pieces together so well, these moving pieces of music, that string together to form one, an album-long feeling of warmth. A lot of this can be attributed to the musical diversity. The cello, the piano, the organ, all combined with the more traditional instrumentation work together to exude a real majestic quality to each of these eight songs.

Oftentimes, the qualities the band wants you to notice most are the most understated of all. A delicate harmony, one specific line of the lyrics, one brush of the bow across the cello's strings, it's the simple things that matter. But more likely than not, the most noticeable element of the music will be the gorgeous and sublime vocals or Stu Livingstone; the haunting, yet oddly comforting qualities his chords possess make every song just have that much more impact. "Subjects & Matter" illustrates this in fine fashion, starting by creating a real dreamy soundscape, and after that carries you along for a while, the terrific combination of lightly distorted and clean, gorgeous guitar tones usher the vocals right in, creating a very surreal musical environment in which every minute action, be it the crashing of a symbol or the plucking of a chord, is amplified ten times over.

It's also a good mix as to what songs are more centered on the vocals, as with "This Open Heart," and those that are more inclined to let the instruments do the talking, as with "Watershed Divide." The latter of those may be the shortest song on the record, the only one not passing the four-minute mark, but there is much elegance to be found in the simplicity. The cello work of Alex McMaster is moving, and sets such a somber tone for the basis of the song that you cannot help but be sucked in when the piano keystrokes find their way into the weaving melodies. This song is followed up nicely by the much more grandiose "Prisoners of Circumstance," a song that finds a terrific niche right in the middle of the record. And much like the instrumentation heard thus far, the lyrics paint a very striking portrait;

And so it was planned that morning. An armed attack, units forging / Cannons, fire at will and halt escape. We'll help them if we can, prisoners of circumstance / A few arrived, weak torn tongue tied. They told of eyes desperate and blind / Please now send troops, they're dying in the fields, we've seen the view / Haste on this mile has formed our constant reprise, it's given promise for now. We took the hill, men they laid still. And in the ground spirit flags found.
Like a fine wine, the album gets better with age. Every moment it continues finds itself in an even better light than the last. The combination of some truly epic crescendos, and very understated individual elements is one that provides some absolutely amazing moments. The mood and feeling evoked can differ by the song, differ by the organ keystroke or cello note, and that's where the strength lies. While a band like Sigur Rós can garner all the acclaim in the world, there's a band like A Northern Chorus who's quietly made one of the best records of last year.