I’d never thought I’d use the phrase “mournfully danceable” to describe an album, but I guess these are the times we are living in right now. The debut release from post-punk outfit N0V3L does exactly that. Angular guitar grooves, mournful keys and a great addition of smooth horns paint the grey sky of this album, while a mass of soulless bodies dance from below, awake but mindlessly dancing as the world around them crumbles.
Not trying to be too dramatic here, but these are the images I vividly imagine when listening to the entirety of Non Fiction. The subjects in this album are heavy and complicated. The opioid crisis, our constant struggle with mental illness and the rise of populism in our political climate are just some of the few things the band carefully outlines here. Yet behind this dystopian reflection of our modern life is a really entertaining collection of songs that has kept me hooked the entire time.
Opener “Untouchable” starts off with a swaying bass line and a series of jittery riffs that build and build into a clamorous atmosphere. Following “Group Disease” comes in with an overall gloomy groove that talks about the unnerving rise of populist groups consuming our friends and neighbors amidst a growing sea of unease. Both tracks are carefully constructed earworms in their own right. It feels like you’re stranded in a monochromatic dance floor grooving along with its unsmiling denizens. True to the traditions of post punk but mirrored in the modern world.
And herein lies the brilliance of N0V3L. They’ve managed to find a careful balance between being profound and entertaining, while never straying too far into being too heady or mindless.
While most of these songs fall into 70’s and 80’s post punk, there’s a lot of funk and jazz that livens up the whole production. One of my favorites is “Falling in Line” where the whole band tones down the vocals and guitars for a smoky haze of late night jazz. One that aptly accompanies a song about conformity and being trapped by social dynamics and norms.
The album also ends on a sobering note, “Notice of Foreclosure” is smooth and hypnotizing while its peers are eerie and steeped in paranoia. It talks about the anxieties of our current modern life, one that feels like it’s slipping away from us constantly.
N0V3L’s Non Fiction doesn’t feel like a debut at all. It’s a strong and bold offering from a band with a concrete identity in both sound and narrative. With a message as profound as theirs, it’s all the more impressive.