Gee whiz, Northern State sure are perky, and that's hard not to like. They've got the spirits of 12-year-old girls, endless reserves of giddy cockiness, and an obvious love for what they're doing. But for all their upside--a tight balance of comedic lefty polemics and booty-propelling party anthems, coupled with a tendency to mix old-school style with chart-hungry beats--it's always been hard to escape the feeling that their voices are just plain off. You could blame this on the fact that they deliver a familiar dialect in a foreign context, sneaking Long Island college student snot-smarts into the terrain of '83 flows, and filtering the whole thing through the prism of a De La Soul-esque self-consciousness. Or you could just be a dick and accuse them of playing the white-chick irony card, tooling around in a milieu where they don't really belong.
Thankfully, the nasal, somewhat cloying flows and jokey forced-rhyme amateurism that Hesta Prynn, Guinea Love, and DJ Sprout displayed on their 2002 debut EP Dying in Stereo have been fine-tuned and streamlined into a confident if hyperactive mean-girl arrogance--the midway point between J.J. Fad and Moon Unit Zappa. They've proven that they're versatile, just as at home slowing it down for DJ Muggs's black-eyeliner crunk production on "Style I Bring" as at keeping Har Mar Superstar's shtick on life support for the upbeat R&B-isms of "Summer Never Ends." And if those voices seemed smarmy two years back, riffing off non sequiturial legal/regal/seagull/beagle rhyme schemes and spitting didactic platitudes only a poli-sci dropout with a lapsed subscription to The Nation would love, a bit of self-editing has done them good. "Girl for All Seasons" flips off Cosmo and brings on an aggressive anti-fashion feminism that rings truer than your average Pink ballad. The mic-trading, group-chanting choruses of the minibar-raiding anthem "Last Night" and the cool, collected Pete Rock-produced "Time to Rhyme" prove they've got hooks like Kareem. Brash, hyperactive, and ever nasal, the "Beastie Girls" comparisons do hold water here, though, let's face it, this album beats To the Five Boroughs to a puree. Eventually, the initially strange effect of their cawfee-tawk flows will wear off. The catchiness might take a while longer.
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