The familiar, ecstatic collision of hope and despair, romance and chaos, past and future, is at the core of Subterrene, the first album in five years from Casey Neill & The Norway Rats, a band with a reputation as a Portland, OR supergroup: Neill on guitar and vocals, The Decemberists' Jenny Conlee-Drizos on keyboards, Eels' Chet Lyster on guitars and production, Amelia's Jesse Emerson on bass, and Priory's Joe Mengis on drums, with contributions from Scott McCaughey and REM's Peter Buck (Neill often performs with Scott and Peter in The Minus 5), along with Thayer Serrano and Death Cab for Cutie's Dave Depper.
Described by Neill as a work of "dystopian romance," Subterrene is all about storytelling, punk rock grit and alt-rock abandon. From its very first moments, it's clear that Neill is tapping into new creative wells, eschewing the Americana roots of his past albums in favor of bolder arrangements that draw on a wide variety of influences. Synthesizers and electronic elements weave in and out underneath razor sharp guitars, while Neill's reedy, raspy voice can call to mind everyone from Michael Stipe to the late Gord Downie.
While not a traditional concept album, Subterrene follows a distinct story arc, and the ominous-yet-defiantly-optimistic portraits it paints were inspired in equal parts by vintage sci-fi novels, our current political climate, and the globetrotting manner in which Neill's lived for the past few years.