Good rock front men are hard to find. The talented ones are often too consumed by their egos to charm an audience, while those who find it easier to connect are often less talented. Complicating the issue is that, especially these days, rock singers tend to fit into only one of a handful of molds: emo whiners, punk screamers, hard rock posers and nu-metal howlers. Striking the balance is Notion's Shaun Hartman, who possesses one of the most powerful, chill-inducing voices this city has ever produced.
Like its singer, the band also finds itself in a precarious balancing act on its latest, self-titled CD (available via www.myspace.com/thebandnotion). Various tracks are sprinkled with bits of hip-hop (“Me” features a rap by local MC Osyrus), drum circle chants (the bonus track “Who's Calling”), old-country twang (“Cigarette”) and electro knob-twiddling (“Born”). Hartman and co-guitarist Noel Moniot relentlessly scratch and scrape their guitars while bassist Brian Wolverton peppers the tunes with occasional flourishes of modern bass techniques over beats that are often tribal (percussion duties were handled alternately by Sean Lyndsey, Mark Lierly and Rob Beckwith). Overall they have a vaguely late-'60s garage vibe in that they attack their instruments with abandon, yet their sound isn't remotely punk. If the Doors had a funky bass player instead of a moody keyboardist, that might be the best description of their sound. Indeed, Jim Morrison is probably the most apt comparison for Hartman's voice.
The lyrics are thoughtful throughout. Hartman manages to find a new angle on a very old story with the opening track, “Icarus,” whose chorus is the marvelously understated “Did I fly too high?” There is little here that resembles a conventional love song; the closest candidates are the sunny, Glen Campbell-esque “Lucky” (“I'm just lucky that you're on my mind”), and the seedy “Cigarette” (“Give me 5 minutes/I'll tell you why it's all her fault”). The catchiest track, the mostly a cappella clap-along “Arcata,” is also the most insightful: “Everyone who really just wanted to get away/they all have gone to exactly the same place ... ashamed to doubt/afraid to believe.”
Hartman and his group have tapped into a sound and a groove that is utterly unique in its apparent indifference to rock 'n' roll trends. On stage, they manage to be neither swaggering prima donnas nor meticulously unkempt indie rockers. Several local bands get more press with charismatic yet tuneless lead vocalists, so it should only be a matter of time before Notion moves to the top of the Little Rock heap.