In what appears to be an effort at genre transcendence, The Sadies have recklessly appropriated — apparently without inspiration — such a wide spectrum of musicality so as to dilute any identifiable personality beyond recognition. Northern Passages, while technically adept, is an exercise in formulaic mastery.

Plagued by lyrical redundancy and a muted, emotionless vocal styling that is more reminiscent of an aging aunt with a klonopin problem than the understated brilliance of singers like Sam Beam or Jeff Tweedy, this album just doesn’t go anywhere. Jerky transitions couple with blatant instrumental pandering that has traded all sense of contemporaneity for meticulous orchestration. It culminates in a sound that feels desperate instead of visionary, and ends up being neither.

Somehow both pretentious and cliche, there is nothing easy about this release; “It’s Easy (Like Walking)

It's Easy Like Walking

It is uncommon to say something is influenced by Americana yet soulless. The Sadies approach songwriting like academia. Bland, sugarless, and declawed, this is the music of people who were likely good at math and never really ‘saw’ a painting. If they’re going through the motions, they’ve learned the motions well, but the emptiness of the compulsory ritual is painfully and insistently apparent.

Often a string of cliches and derivative harmonies set against instrumental progressions that run the gamut from The Byrds to the Drive-by Truckers, Billy Bragg to The Weepies, the forced breakdowns and architectural coldness of their sound does nothing to elevate this album from the sum of its parts; “The Elements Song

The Elements Song

When it comes down to it, this record is a trite assertion that training and focus can compensate for soul, vision, and destiny. The insights it offers lyrically are neither original nor profound. The arrangements, while widely inclusive, are utterly lacking the spirit by which any genre they have incorporated was inspired. Simply, unless you’re into the type of geekery that allows you to get off on algebraic amalgamations of musical heritage, this is a waste of your time.

And they tell you as much; “Questions I’ve Never Asked

Questions I've Never Asked