Undoubtedly there will come a time when we reflect on the music released over the past year and a half. Music written and released during the pandemic and its various lockdowns might just fit into their own genre in the future. Tour Alaska‘s New Ways for Us to Fall (NWFUTF) is another addition to this genre, a genre highlighted by its isolated creation method. Pre-pandemic, recording in a rural studio with little outside influence was a methodical choice. For Tour Alaska, it was a necessity that paid off.
Tour Alaska, the solo project of A Plastic Rose’s frontman Gerry Norman, recorded his sophomore album at Hillhouse Studios in Belfast with producer Dean Stevens. Unlike his minimalistic debut solo album, The Guiding Moon, NWFUTF is much more nuanced, mainly because of the array of featured local Irish musicians like Gavin Fox (TURN, Idlewild), Paul Hamilton (Foy Vance, Ryan McMullan), and others. The layers of artists contributed to NWFUTF successfully building off its intended influences like Ryan Adams and Bon Iver. Additionally, the finished product gives off a similar sound to Gary Lightbody’s group project, Tired Pony.
The song’s themes vary, similar to the rollercoaster that is and was pandemic life. There’s the openness of depression and the overjoys of simple connections. Yet, altogether, it is surprisingly upbeat for the timing. This positive energy seems to stem from the alt-folk/American country influences notability in songs like “Apple Disguise,” the first single released earlier this summer. There’s a simplicity integral to country songs in the single, but a full sound sets it apart from classic singer-songwriter songs.
Another standout track on the album is “Starlight Starlight.” The guitar work leaves perfectly into lyrics like: “Close the door, sit with me by the fireside, let the whiskey warm our hearts tonight, let me know what’s on your mind, ’cause you’re my starlight, starlight.” Slightly cheesy but also a sweet and warming image on a brisk evening outdoors by the fire when the world seems to be a series of isolated bubbles. It’s simply a great, effortless love song.
In contrast, “Condolences” is completely stripped down compared to the other tracks. It’s backed only by piano, giving it a melancholy heaviness that is followed by the overtly positive “Against the Tide We Swim.” The latter of the two is reminiscent of early Frank Turner songs in drums, lyrics, and voice. Yet the track that best represents the essence of the album’s sound is probably “Black Dog.” The song has great depth, with a wide vocal range from both Norman and the backing vocalists. The mix of piano and strings speak to the difference between Tour Alaska’s sound from the debut album to NWFUTF.
The album is an excellent work of balance. There’s a balance between longing and joy, between simplicity and saturation, love and heartache, and the Americanisms of Tom Petty & Bon Iver against a modern Irish voice.