There are times when people find themselves in a linear progression with others. The beginnings of this could be befriending a stranger in tennis class at college, making some jokes about the instructor’s 80s gym shorts together, and progressing in the literary field as they progress in the music field. Maybe it is a buddy making waves in the film industry at the same time you are improving your interviewing persona and staging photo shoots at strip clubs.

The Inept Owl has been lucky enough to have a few artists in multiple fields come back again and again with new albums, ideas, and visions. It has the feel of a family reunion, as we see each other grow up and grow out each time we get together for a brief moment in the year. Such is the case with The Northstar Session as I review their latest album, “Late Bloomer”.

Late Bloomer is the third TNS album that we’ve reviewed, but it is my first, so allow me to provide a refresher. The Northstar Session began as the musical outlet of singer/songwriter/guitarist Matthew Szlachetka back in 2005,  and grew into a band when he traveled from Massachusetts to Los Angeles in 2007. It is there that Matt found drummer Kane McGee and keyboardist Dave Basaraba, and began the progression of The Northstar Session through one EP and two full-length albums, leading us to their most recent, “Late Bloomer”. The band keeps in line with its past comparisons to Wilco and earlier soft rock, while continuing to subtly enhance their music technically. Luckily, this does not take away from the enticing hooks of the songs themselves. The best example of this metaphor is the song, “In Time”, which has a progressive build-up to it with the interaction of piano, drums, guitars, and voice.

This song and others, like “Let You Down”, bring up another comparison: Ben Folds. These style flashes fluctuate from somber to head-bopping fun. While these style changes are apparent, they are not so dissimilar that one would question if the band is confused about what sort of style they are trying to project. There is always the underlying current of Szlachetka’s voice that keeps The Northstar Session grounded and self-aware in their songwriting.

Is the album title a self-reflection on the band as a whole? I’d say no. The blooming seems to be more in the recording and production aspects of the album rather than the musical style. Really, why try to fix what isn’t broken? This is not to say that the album is over-produced. Instead, The Northstar Session finds that happy medium in production so that the music sounds slick, but almost live. The most obvious example is how Szlachetka’s voice does not over-power the rest of the band, but truly co-operates as another instrument. However, there are enough guitar licks and drum pounding to keep the band from the “ambient” label.

Song to buy from iTunes rather than download for free: “Let You Down”. I’ve played this song on repeat 5 times so far, and it’s still not getting old. This could very well be our generation’s “Come Sail Away” by Styx.

I give The Northstar Session‘s “Late Bloomer” 3 out of 5 progress charts.