I discovered Norwegian Arms the same way I discover most of the best music I listen to – with the pop of a facebook chat window opening accompanied by a youtube link. As the video for “Tired of Being Cold” loaded (I have satellite internet because I live in the woods. It’s very slow, comparatively.) My friend Cris explained that the percussionist was the one and only Eric Slick, who also plays the drums for Dr. Dog. Dr. Dog is our favorite band. I was giddy.
Cris came through for the umpteenth time and I was not disappointed by his recommendation. I found myself smiling as I watched Brenden Mulvhill play the mandolin and complain about being cold while Slick the Multitasking Wizard played a drum and keyboard simultaneously. The vibes were good and the sound was better so I followed the small band on Twitter, thanked Cris, and went on living my life. Some time later Norwegian Arms announced via Twitter that Wolf Like a Stray Dog was available on Bandcamp and they were allowing fans to choose how much they’d like to pay for the album – even nothing. Legally. After noting that they describe themselves as "weirdo-folk" I chucked them $5 for the goods because, for some reason, when I’m not forced to pay for music I am compelled to pay for good music. In this age of instant gratification I was rewarded with 11 tracks, all about two minutes long.
Wolf Like a Stray Dog was written by Mulvhill during his yearlong stay in Tomsk, Russia. He wrote the lyrics and mandolin pieces for the songs which come across lively and warm despite the narrative of life in wintery Siberia. Upon returning to Philadelphia he met up with Slick who put together the rhythm and percussion. The result is somewhat Vampire Weekend-esque. Mulvhill’s vocals are rich, cheery, and sincere while Slick keeps things interesting without overdoing it. I was intrigued with how Mulvhill was able to communicate such a variety of musical ideas with his mandolin throughout – I thought after a few tracks I'd get sick of the mandolin over a steady, snappy drum line but BOY HOWDY. I was wrong. By putting emphasis on different aspects of the sound and letting the mood change between tracks the guys kept my attention and I liked it enough to write about it. I suppose it could be argued that the songs sound similar; however, I think the gentlemen of Norwegian Arms have simply found the sound that suits them and are expanding upon the notion of being a two-man group.
It’s clear that Wolf Like a Stray Dog is a personal piece for Mulvhill and his time in Tomsk. It doesn’t explore any universal themes and won’t top any charts but I’m very glad he brought Eric Slick in on the gig and pushed out some vinyl and even a few cassettes in addition to a digital release. This album is a compilation of simple, bright, and brief thoughts that will have you wondering what else you’ll put on your spring playlist and smiling at strangers in traffic.
6.5 / 10
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