Words by Karl Johnson
The debut LP by NOV3L is a multifaceted beast, a jigsaw of intriguing sounds and oddly shaped interlocking parts. It requires both your attention and your imagination as you bask in the dark lyrical underbelly, jagged instrumental left turns and the dimly-lit corners of smoky synthesizers and saxophone-infused post-punk.
Non Fiction, the Vancouver band’s first full-length album, immediately feels more muscular and dynamic than the self-titled debut EP, that set them apart from the North American post-punk pack, back in 2019 – with a focus on edging the brilliantly jagged vocal delivery of Jon Varley closer to the surface – a necessary move in uncovering the lyrical sentiment within. Varley hits out at the pharmacological companies that fuelled the Canadian opioid epidemic, channelling his own lived experience with opiate addiction, while tearing at the seams of capitalism and the false freedoms it cultivates within our societies.
Whether NOV3L actually want us to dance on Non Fiction I’m not entirely sure, but the band’s innate groove is the lifeblood of their sound, each track offers a strut that you can’t help but caper to. Album opener Untouchable strangely recalls the subtle brilliance of Metronomy’s 2008 album Nights Out, while En Masse shudders and rises unexpectedly into a festival-ready and saxophone-led moment of euphoria – when you strip away the signature guitar sound NOV3L sneak into unexpected territory.
It’s within the album’s second half where NOV3L reach a tipping point, Varley finds himself in his most fluid and venomous lyrical state as tempos heighten and murky sonic corridors are explored through swampy electronic textures and heady drum beats. On the whole, the record feels destined to be consumed on long commutes within smoggy capital cities, where dreams of open space and affordability are simply make-believe.
The album bleeds lived experience, and feels cast from the same unbreakable societal mould that it attacks at every opportunity. “Grip on the present like sand between fingers,” yells Varley on closing track Notice Of Foreclosure, NOV3L have crafted a record that lifts up a mirror to society – with the truth as it’s last resort, Non Fiction slaps the rose-tinted ray-bans off your face and forces you to look between the cracks.