While post punk music has been enjoying a bit of a boom in recent years, I can’t help but feel that it also must be a pretty difficult genre to be operating in at times. With the Joy Division era and the Interpol era being so firmly enmeshed in many people’s minds, and with Joy Division themselves being the height of cool and popularity over the last decade, it can be hard to bring something out that isn’t immediately accused of being derivative or pointless if it’s not as good as the classics. It’s an attitude that pisses me off on several levels.
Originality in music comes in many forms, but it seems that some ‘fans’ are extremely quick to write off bands who have even a hint of obvious influence in their music. I imagine N0V3L’s Non Fiction is likely to fall foul of some of those people. You will struggle to listen to it without hearing huge dollops of both the eras, and bands, that I’ve just mentioned. There are moments when you could be listening to Joy Division, seconds when Interpol are all you will hear, and even a few moments when it feels like the Talking Heads have jumped into your stereo.
Does that make this a bad or derivative record? Not to me, no. In fact, I think the clipped and aggressive performance that reminds me of all three of those bands makes Non Fiction pretty irresistible. ‘Apath’ wears its influences firmly on its sleeve, but that doesn’t stop me from desperately wanting to be in a tiny venue somewhere bouncing along to its familiar guitar lines. ‘Group Disease’ has a late 70s swagger mixed in with some late nineties vocals, but in its lyrics and its performance it becomes a song that feels exactly right for today. ‘Stranger’ might remind me of being a teenager, but as a 37-year-old man I don’t see any problem with that.
So yeah, there are callbacks to all sorts of huge records and artists all over this record. But in songs like ‘Falling In Line’, N0V3L also show themselves to be a distinct and interesting band who are bringing something new to a thriving scene. The use of saxophone in this song lifts it above the rest of the album, making it the exciting centerpiece around which the rest of the album reverberates.
‘Violent and Paranoid’ towards the end uses a foreboding instrumentation to create a sense of chaos and claustrophobia, marking it as the most intense moment across the piece. This song is also made all the more special by the addition of some instruments that don’t often make an appearance on this kind of music. And when the album closes out with ‘Notice of Foreclosure’ we might well hear those hints of Interpol again, but look past those and see what this song is doing in its own right. It is a cracking ending to an album that often feels dystopian – like a future that has been ripped apart until it resembles the past.
Accusations of derivativeness do make me extremely uncomfortable at times. I feel they can prevent people from giving new music the time and effort it deserves to grow, immediately making people think they may as well listen to the classics that it resembles. It isn’t far away from the ‘they don’t make music like they used to’ brigade. Do N0V3L remind me of a lot of other bands? Absolutely. But have they also made one of the few post punk albums this year that I simply can’t stop listening to? They absolutely, definitely have. Get it in your ears.
Words by Fran Slater