By Erin Christie
Characterized by larger-than-life post-punk influence, rhythmic new-wave ideologies, and a fuck-all attitude, Canadian outfit N0V3L have aimed to captivate with their long-awaited LP, NON-FICTION (out May 28th via Flemish Eye Records), and undeniably, they’ve done just that upon its release.
Written between 2017 and 2020 with production and mixing by Bryce Cloghesy (Military Genius, Crack Cloud), the record finds the group following a gruelling period of adaptation, with topics and themes that touched them over the last three, tumultuous years weaved throughout. Subsequently, it serves as a distinctive timestamp, documenting not only N0V3L’s personal growth as musicians since the beginning of their career, but also how the changing world around them has forced them to shift their outlook and approach to their artistry.
With a title and tracklist of songs printed in all-caps, the record’s air of intensity is made palpable on an aesthetic level alone, but is cemented further once the first track, “UNTOUCHABLE,” begins. As it starts, waves of energetic riffery grab you and pull you in, serving as an introduction to a thrilling holistic album-listening experience, wherein the urge to get up and mosh in your own bedroom is nearly irresistible.
Prior to release, though, NON-FICTION was precursed by a handful of singles, each of which helped hint at what N0V3L had waiting in the wings, toward the madness that was yet to come. All three tracks — the monotonous and haunting “NOTICE OF FORECLOSURE,” bass-heavy banger “GROUP DISEASE,” and somewhat simplistic and funky key-ridden “STRANGER” — saw the group revving their musical engines, each serving as a warning to their peers to make way, lest they be flattened under their wheels.
Of the singles, the first, “GROUP DISEASE,” set the album’s tone quite well from the gate. Speckled with just the right amount of spine-chilling keys and backboarded with the throb of a toe-tapping bassline, the track makes way for vocalist/guitarist Jon Varley to map out a brooding discussion on the ever-present cultish wave of political deviants, striving for chaos. Likewise, “NOTICE OF FORECLOSURE” paints imagery of our forever changed world, a foreboding reminder that, as time passes and we’re exposed to more and more atrocities, it’s impossible to retain childlike innocence and to celebrate the now trivial joys of everyday life. The message is perhaps morbid but realistic as, especially in the era of COVID, there really is no way to return to ‘how things were,’ not without a complete erasure of the horrors we’ve witnessed and complacency in the face of unrelenting upheaval. With these two tracks on their own, the album’s socio-political themes, carved out with the musical prowess that the group have been refining since the release of their self-titled EP, were brought to light.
In addition to cutthroat commentary on contemporary times, instrumentally, many of the tracks exhibit the twangy guitar-led ambition of tracks already seen across N0V3L’s repertoire, but are intensified with the presence of crooning brass saxophone and intricate layers of keys and synths. “APATH,” for example, chimes in with chilling distortion, the hum of the instrumental frenzy yet to come. Thunderous and jarring vocal droning is an additional key ingredient to the record’s effectiveness as well, with each blunt phrase uttered with the intention of tattooing them inside the listener’s skull.
Additional track inclusions — such as “VIOLENT & PARANOID,” which begins almost as if a smashing club banger would, with warped vocals in the style of a rap producer’s tagline and buzzing static bass, and “PUSHERS,” which wades in the disco-tinged waters of contemporaries such as Working Men’s Club — make an argument on behalf of N0V3L’s ability to get listeners’ hips swaying, while still retaining their attention via political commentary, too. With each track, either techno-heavy or stripped-back and calling on elements of post-garage, one thing’s for certain: this group have established their own brand of blunt alt-rock that’s absolutely infectious.
Everything considered, NON-FICTION is a testament to N0V3L’s underrated greatness, and serves as evidence of their unwavering and impressive foothold amidst the current scene of post-punk connoisseurs here and abroad. Despite the commonality of styles such as the ones shown throughout their work, each track still manages to stand out among the ever-growing crowd, a true indication of this group’s ability to get the spotlight to turn their way.
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