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Beloved indie pop act Dear Nora returns with their first album in 12 years

After 12 years in the wild, Dear Nora is back and hasn’t lost a step. Photo credit: Facebook

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In the Pacific Northwest, it can sometimes feel like no one ever truly leaves for good, especially in Washington. If you're an artistic type, there exists a healthy cycle of rising up through the local ranks, cutting your teeth on the strange and occasionally prickly scene, before uprooting and going off to find new experiences. With musicians, this exodus can be more metaphorical, with beloved bands dissolving, morphing into something new and different, leaving behind the memories they'd imprinted on a generation of music-lovers. And still, there's always a sense, a lingering hope, that your favorite band will someday come back together for one last hurrah.

For Dear Nora, that moment is now. The much-loved Portland indie pop trio formed in 1999, and released three classic LPs before the Dear Nora name was retired in 2008. At the heart of the band was Katy Davidson, whose tender songwriting and affecting voice provided much of Dear Nora's indelibly magnetic pull. While Dear Nora was retired, Davidson continued to record and release music under various monikers. To the surprise of many, though, Davidson announced that Dear Nora would be revived for another release, and so Skulls Example -- their first album of new material in 12 years -- is set to drop this week, with a coinciding tour stopping by Olympia's Le Voyeur this Sunday.

The return of Dear Nora came about due to a 2017 vinyl reissue of their 2004 album, Mountain Rock. That, combined with how volatile and insane life in general feels right now, Davidson says, resulted in this feeling like the perfect time to bring the project back to life. Skulls Example is comprised of songs that had been written between 2008 and last year, when Dear Nora got back in the studio. Stylistically, Skulls Example differs from earlier Dear Nora releases mostly in how immediate the songs feel. There's still a woodsiness, a tactile intimacy, and a folk-rock vibe to the music, but the experimental atmospherics and a tendency toward micro-song sketches have been largely eschewed in favor of tightly constructed compositions. 

"Simulation Feels," with its sunny disposition and off-kilter rhythms, feels like a bubblegum take on early Of Montreal. "Sunset on Humanity" drifts by on a dreamy breeze, with honeyed vocals and supple guitars lending everything a weightlessness that beckons you to lose yourself in thought. Still, Dear Nora's aim isn't merely to transport you to a mindset free of worry, as the title of "Sunset on Humanity" might suggest. This is an album of conflict, of embracing the world's inherent wonder, not out of naivety, but out of perseverance and a determination to never forget the beauty around us, even if it may sometimes be scary.

The lightly electronic title track is by far the album's longest song, clocking in at nearly five minutes. That rare length is enough to completely envelop the listener, with the gently shuffling drum machine leading you down a path of lush, warmth synths entering from the edges to create a kind of sonic blanket. Like many of the songs on the album, this one feels at once comforting, and oddly unsettling, as if the trance is threatening to be broken at any moment. It's followed by the starkly rigid "Worship the Cactus," a staccato detour into New Wave that works to completely obliterate the spell you'd fallen under. 

"Antidote for Mindlessness" almost sounds like a long-lost Robyn song, suffused a restlessly dance-y energy. This range, from indie folk to electronica to increasingly poppy fare represents the time Dear Nora has spent in the wild. For now, Dear Nora has returned home, having changed.

DEAR NORA, all ages, w/ Nicholas Krgovich, 6 p.m., Sunday, May 27, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $10 suggested donation, 360.943.5710,

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