Hypocritic Oath is a punishing, wildly creative record free of all stylistic constraints and commercial pressures.
Sometimes, it’s best to be on the outside looking in.
True, the overwhelming nature of these modern times has no regard for this neat and tidy parsing out of our shared cultural space; the inside has found its way out. Information on every subject and event — the good, the bad, and the deplorable — reaches us everywhere, all at once, at an unprecedented speed that we now accept as a fundamental aspect of our experience.
For musicians, whose vocation hinges on fighting for every additional second of sustained attention, the need to participate in this cultural maelstrom must often feel like a necessity. This obligation can manifest itself in a constant tour schedule, a savvy social media presence, and most importantly, through cultivating a sound and an image that feel current and digestible.
Then again, you could also do your best to ignore the shifting gaze of the masses and just create. Toronto duo Not Of is a band that proves that this approach is still a viable option in 2018. John Ex and Victor Malang are grizzled veterans who engage with the rat race from a healthy state of removal. They don’t tour; they aren’t active on the socials; they play abrasive, noisy, non-linear guitar music that’s about as digestible as a swig of Jameson. But while they operate differently than the bands hell-bent on relevance, that doesn’t mean their music lacks urgency. It’s music borne from the chaos of experience, made by two guys sober enough to try and mitigate their exposure to said chaos.
Not Of’s newest offering, Hypocritic Oath, has all the hallmarks of an album made on the periphery, happily removed from all stylistic constraints and commercial pressures. It’s brimming with punishing riffage, complex arrangements, tempo changes, guttural howls, and a pervading sense of unpredictability. The band’s last effort, 2015’s Pique, employed a similar style to excellent effect, but the stakes are emphatically raised this time around. Hypocritic Oath runs the gamut from punk, to hardcore, to metalcore, to rock ‘n’ roll, to post-rock. Despite the sheer variance and experimentation, Not Of reign in every element with a cerebral acuity, expert pacing, and some damn-fine musicianship. They are also smart to couch the record and its transitions in swaths of dissonant and ambient noise, which helps to unify the songs into an immersive whole.
An example of this unity can be heard right from the opening salvo of “The 2016 Idiot Blues”, “Watch Him, They Said”, and “Fix Don’t Fix”. Guitar player and vocalist John Ex recently told The Big Takeover that these songs respectively explore depression, paranoia, and addiction, which all affected Ex in some way during a prolonged “bad state of mind.” Despite the wildly different styles each song in this series employs, they all bleed into one another to create an amorphous whole — not unlike how self-destructive thoughts and attitudes feed off of and morph into one another.
Elsewhere, the uber-catchy single “Astoria Jack” critiques the inherent lack of self-awareness, condescension, and self-serving attitudes that pervade the relationships between cocky band dudes and women in the music industry (“I can help you lift that/Yeah, I’ll help you set it up/This button does this/This pedal does that and I am always here!”). Similarly, “Dear Mr. Speaker” berates our culture of false compassion that uses reactions to tragedy and public displays of condolence to boost our own sense of self-worth, rather than advocate for any real change. Not Of attack Hypocritic Oath’s subject matter with wisdom and honesty that arises from lived experience. From this state of gained perspective, the duo examines the inane hypocrisies and peculiarities of our internal and external worlds.
There is a tendency to equate the hype surrounding a piece of art to the quality of that art. Now more so than ever, hype and attention are essential to artists. They are forms of currency in an industry where actual currency is increasingly difficult to acquire. Outside of a few select circles, you won’t find a lot of hype surrounding Hypocritic Oath, but the idea that this somehow relates to its quality is utterly absurd. That said, this false equivalency doesn’t really seem like something Not Of would be overly concerned about. That’s what I love about this band. They have been around long enough to know that attention and hype are fleeting; the only things that endure are the art itself and the satisfaction that arises from its creation. Hypocritic Oath is a record that exists not for likes or shares, or because a tour needed to be supported, but because a creative itch needed to be scratched. It’s all the better for it.