Some of the lyrical cries from Vancouver’s N0V3L on their debut album Non-Fiction—a chaotic map of the five-piece’s observations and critiques of the modern world—are like radio warnings drowned in the static of raging guitars and riotous saxophone. The guitars are sharp and the bass lines are clearcut. At times, the percussion and guitar work fall on top of each other in harmony like a winning game of Tetris; at other times, the polyrhythms thrillingly clash. Non-Fiction is the soundtrack to the War of the Worlds reboot where the invaders are the one-percenters attempting to bolster the growing gap of inequality.
N0V3L are among the many current working bands using their music as an outlet for their indignation. They draw from a long line of artists—from post-punk to new wave to hip-hop—who use their art to amplify their community, as well as to point out how fucked this world we live in is. N0V3L succeed at planting seeds of dance music, whether that’s the ska-influenced “Falling in Line” or the new wave cacophony of “Pushers,” heavy ideas like poisonous conformity or the corrupt pharmaceutical industry. But for a band that thrives on the motto “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” the totality of these 11 tracks is unclear.
At times it’s hard to make sense of the cold delivery of vocalist Jon Varley. One post-punk group can’t fix global problems like inequity and malice, but it’s hard to discern the purpose of these tracks that skirt the line of declarative manifestos and observational lessons. Does the detached delivery serve as a device to avoid off-putting preachiness, or a result of jaded complacency? It’s exciting when a weird dreaminess overtakes these tracks, like on the outro of “Status” and album highlight “Notice of Foreclosure.” Non-Fiction is the uncompromising result of how the mind tries to reconcile violent and paranoid music in a time of violence and paranoia, masquerading under funky rhythms.