Review Summary: Painfully obvious clone of the National, with very little of the same quality.
Poor old No. Usually, we try and pop bands into genres. With No, to describe what they sound like, I really just have to point to another band... the National. They're saddled with a ridiculous name that will certainly not improve the search engine optimisation scores. And if you're going be the derivative version of a giant on the indie music scene, it better be a fantastic facsimile like the Editors.
Sadly, No fall short. One gets the feeling they have married the inoffensive, bland qualities of bands like the Fray and the Script to the personal power of the National. You know that sort of anonymous soft rock personified by acts like the Rembrandts and Deep Blue Something, which got carted into the 2000's and refined by the Ryan Tedders of the world.
At their best, No manage to recreate the atmosphere of the National with their most blatantly obvious copy - third track The Long Haul. It's an impressive piece of work, with some genuinely striking lyrics like "this helium prefers no ceiling". It has naked, haunting quality that's hard not to like even in the face of its unoriginality. However, second track There's A Glow boasts such clunkers as "there's a glow up over the city", then a line or two later, "phases me to know that she's pretty". It's sort of a lazy rhyme that makes you want to smack your forehead with your palm, and illustrates that No don't really know what they're doing. Maybe they felt thrilled that the National laid out a blueprint for what to do with a slightly deeper voiced frontman, and just rushed into the studio to record the light version.
The opening tracks are lukewarm with their fizzing guitars that fail to build a considered approach, rather bubbling along in a light, driving fashion designed to bring this particular brand of indie to the masses (I suppose No hopes to be the Young the Giant of sad reflective tunes). However, the EP lives or dies by its most startling departure from the National sound - track five Coming Down. This apes a different reference - sort of Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, with a disgusting synth line which sounds faintly as if it might be penned and recorded by a songwriter for the Barney show.
They have a minor success with final track "Stay", which moves closer to the safe territory, but still includes disaster lines like "I've got this feeling / you'll always be dreaming". It has some nice dips and rises, with a tasteful piano addition to emphasise the endings of lines.
No matter how hard they try however, No could probably never score higher than average while they live in the shadow of one of the best modern rock bands currently active. Oddly enough, I feel there is some promise here - maybe they can find a way to take the sound they admire, and temper it with something else - make it their own. I'm hoping they avoid the circular synth riff as a differentiator though.