Summer Last's Forever

MUSIC, feature story

by sam pfeifle, portland phoenix, 10.26.06

Mitch Alden, frontman and songwriter for Now Is Now, is by all appearances a very happy guy. He’s got a smile a mile wide almost every time you see him, whether in person or in pictures. Every e-mail he sends contains a minimum of five smiley faces and somehow you can’t work up much annoyance for it. Certainly, those fans he’s drawn to himself over the past six or seven years on the Portland scene aren’t annoyed.

You’ve got to have a seriously sunny disposition to buy into Now Is Now. Cynics will find little to like here.

Over the course of two albums, the last one being 2004’s Days of Summer, Alden has built a reputation for well-formed pop songs, often with a fantastical bent, delivered with great guitar chops, backed by a rotating rhythm section. Here on Now Is Now’s third disc, Never Go Back, despite the title, Alden has deviated little from the path, though he’s retained a rhythm section for the past few years in bassist Drew Wyman and drummer Neil Carroll, so everything is tighter and there’s a touch more originality in the arrangements.

Gosh, though, this happiness can wear on a person. In “Day 1,” the chorus runs “today I love everything.” Criminy. Although his entreaty to “come on now rip off your clothes with me and roll in the hay” at least shows he’s got his mind in the gutter from time to time. Here, as on most of the eight-song disc, you get a good dose of rock guitar solo, this one first on the acoustic, maintaining some subtlety as it climbs up the fretboard, then joined later by the electric (many times, thanks to technology, Alden accompanies himself with multiple guitar parts).

Packed with solid jams in songs that are never under four minutes, Alden and company do manage to let their hair down a little bit with Never Go Back (ha! — Alden’s actually got a shaved head). The chorus to the title track actually brings in some country sounds, like those songs about pickup trucks and America, but nobody’s dog dies or anything.

Hey, with “A 20-Something Crossroads,” opening with a descending bass line from Wyman that’s joined by some picked guitar noodling, there are even some noises about being sad because he’s got to leave his sweetie, but he’s so earnest about being in love with this girl that most people will probably just wind up jealous that he’s got someone in his life he likes enough to care about leaving.

You know, the girl in “Over & Over” about which he sings: “I’m going to fly so I can be next to you/I don’t know why, it’s something I gotta do/I look in your eyes, see I’m a part of you ... over and over falling in love every day.”

Maybe I’m just a bitter, soulless jerk.

Never Go Back | Released by Now Is Now | October 28 | at RiRa, in Portland

sam pfeifle is the senior music editor for the portland phoenix.