Northbrook – Maybe…
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: March 22, 2009
From the first notes of Maybe…, it is immediately obvious that Ryan Mentzos, lead singer/guitarist of the Maryland outfit Northbrook wears two things on his proverbial sleeve: his heart and his influences. Yes, Northbrook is a pop-punk band, buyer beware. Expect no genre-shifting changes or massive creative leaps here. Instead, Maybe... sounds vaguely familiar: a (musically) bright pop-punk album with piano sprinkled here and there, catchy choruses, and generally introspective, almost wistful lyrics. However, there is no reason why familiarity should breed contempt.
Northbrook began as a cross-continental internet band, but folded into what is essentially a solo project by Ryan Mentzos in 2007. Maybe... is the band’s first album, and features Mentzos singing and playing all the instruments except drums. Mentzos relies heavily on usual pop-punk guitar fare: palm muting, power chords, and occasional arpeggiated clean sections. However, songs such as the opener and “Cold Hearts = Cold Blood; Therefore, We Must Be Reptiles,” display Mentzos’ well-above-average guitar chops. Mentzos usually seems to echo the work of American Football or The Get Up Kids when it comes to his guitar lines. Additionally, Mentzos frequently plays the piano, often using it as a lead instrument. His style of playing here sounds surprisingly similar to Bradley Bell of Cinematic Sunrise. Vocally, Mentzos is certainly not techinically proficient, however, his voice suits his style of music fairly well. He sounds somewhat like the younger versions of Matt Pryor or Alex Gaskarth, respectively.
Much of the lyrical content of Maybe... seems to be devoted to Mentzos’ regretful contemplation of relationships gone foul or not quite right, and oddly enough, Florida turns up numerous times in his lyrics. Since Northbrook is now based in Maryland, the desire to draw parallels to Yellowcard and Ryan Key’s constant (and continued) sonic remembrances of the Sunshine State is irresistible. Apart from this, his lyrics are generally pretty much normal pop-punk fare, nothing too special; however, they are generally solid, carefully treading the line between sentimental and overly self-aware, and usually staying the middle.
In listening to Maybe..., it is important to remember that Ryan Mentzos was only eighteen when he recorded these songs, and younger when he wrote them. Once again, generally speaking, the twelve songs on Maybe... are fairly original, solid, entertaining pop-punk songs. However, the album has a few flaws—all of which are indicative to a young, beginning artist—that prevent me from recommended it without reservation. First, the album is far too long. Clocking in at around an hour (even when you subtract the silence between “Au Revoir a Malhonette” and the hidden track), Maybe... is not nearly as organized and tight as it could be. As a result, the album begins to sound repetitive by around the sixth or seventh track, and does not hold up exceedingly well under repeated listens. (The song “Forecast the Overcast” suffers from this the worst; I could not listen to it more than once all the way through.) Several tracks do stand out, though, and these will make you wish to come back for more, especially as the songs get stuck in your head over the next few days.
The other downfall of Maybe..., as I have alluded to, is its unoriginality. This is usually not too problematic, but there are two instances I would like to point out that do seem to be borderline (unintentional, I’m sure) plagiarism. The first is about 3:05 into “Hollywood Isn’t Glamorous,” in which Mentzos very clearly lifts a guitar part and vocal line from Taking Back Sunday’s “Great Romances of the 20th Century.” The second instance is the very end of the chorus of “Small Towns And Insane Asylums Are One In The Same,” which sounds very much like “Be My Escape,” by Relient K.
Maybe... is a decent first album, don’t get me wrong. However, Ryan Mentzos could stand to broaden his musical spectrum a little and widen his influences. Perhaps bringing in other members might help with this. But, one way or another, this album shows some promise. It could be the beginning of a very good band. It might not be. Only time will tell. At its best, Maybe... is catchy, fast-paced and enjoyable. At its worst, it is simply boring and repetitive. Some tightening of the band’s sound, along with the natural musical progression that aging tends to bring could work some wonders for Northbrook. But, for now, let’s appreciate Maybe… for what it is: an honest, youthful pop-punk album.
The album is available on iTunes or for free download (with the artist's consent) here.