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Nord Express

Nord Express's ethereal, oddly pretty pop music isn't exactly "catchy" in the conventional sense -- it isn't full of great hooks and maddeningly hummable melodies you can't get out of your head. But their slow, stripped-down, extremely repetitive songs do find entry points into your consciousness, infecting you with their cool melancholy, their droning obsessiveness, and their occasional moments of shiny cheerfulness. Sometimes Nord Express is maddeningly slowed down and introspective -- like Yo La Tengo at their most somnolent or Galaxie 500 at their most deflated -- but a strange ethereal beauty always seems to emerge through the soft jangle of Robert Goldrick's guitar, the brush and stutter of Ron Harrity's drums and the duo's wandering, wounded, out-of-key melodies. The prettiness of these songs has as much to do with the notes Nord Express elect not to play as the ones they do; one is always acutely aware of the spaces around their songs.

The band -- whose core members are Goldrick and Harrity -- has been crafting its singular brand of minimalist pop since the mid-'90s, and has found the perfect label home in Berkeley's Slumberland Records. Nord Express's first effort, a slightly folk flavored self-titled EP with backup vocals from Pam Berry (Black Tambourine), features "The Letter" and "The Walk." Their full-length follow-up, 1997's Central, augmented by backup vocalist Trish Roy and organist/vocalist Archie Moore (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine; also the producer of both Nord Express albums), features "Dizzy" and "M. Row."