Vancouver’s N0V3L takes a close look at their city under the influence of late capitalism.
From the depths of the Vancouver underground scene comes N0V3L. They are a post-punk band on a one-way mission to dismantle capitalism one song at a time. It’s a lofty goal, but N0V3L has a laser-focused stare at their hometown on their debut full-length LP, NON-FICTION. With Vancouver as a vignette, the band showcases crumbling empires at work and takes a close look at their city under the influence of late capitalism.
NON-FICTION is a thunderous album. Not in the sense that every track is a full-on sonic barrage of thrashing and screaming, but rather that the music’s thematic elements are exalted by the weight of the songwriting. Each track is meaningful, skilfully crafted, and gets in your face. It forces you into the depressive environment painted by the band and chronicled by lead singer, Jon Varley. Even when I turn off the album, I can still hear the haunting music echoing through my psyche.
On their 2019 debut, NOVEL, they used post-punk as the building blocks to stack layers of funk, disco, and traditional punk to shout anti-capitalist mantras at anybody who would listen. Even though NOVEL came out not long ago, the band seems to have aged at a rapid pace. The maturation of NON-FICTION is frankly unbelievable. N0V3L still maintains their multi-genre tapestry of influences, but their songwriting is wiser, more precise, and their stories attack like a blade cutting through the flesh of society — initially unnoticeable but devastating nonetheless.
On NON-FICTION, the band ditches their sing-along-and-party approach, favouring a far more sinister and depressive melancholy. Mostly sung in a monotone register, Varley carries the weight of his talent in his lyrical content. Despite this, the music still sounds catchy. The band members fly by with melodic riffs, add exuberant saxophone lines, and drive the drum and bass to keep each song chugging along in excellent textbook punk fashion.
As a band with lived experience struggling with much of what they sing about, the criticism and despair displayed on NON-FICTION carries the sort of legitimacy that is both refreshing and depressing. On “NOTICE OF FORECLOSURE,” Varley’s syncopated melody works in tandem with the lyrics to create a deceptively obtuse goodbye letter: “Farewell to past days, to handwritten letters / New ways upon us, nostalgia like whispers.” Varley almost romanticizes an analog past, and it’s the closest we come to any form of melodrama on this album. Without a break in his breath, Varley quickly abandons the rose-tinted glasses and fixes his gaze on the present and future: “Forced adaptation, notice of foreclosure / Dragging us forward and in a different future.” For an album filled with disdain for the status-quo and bitter critiques of the trajectory capitalism has us on, “NOTICE OF FORECLOSURE” feels particularly bleak.
An album highlight is the invigorating “VIOLENT & PARANOID.” It’s a hip-hop-inspired, ADHD-infused merciless deconstruction of systems of oppression. The track studies the decomposition of mental health within the capitalist climate and then quickly looks at overthrowing such systems. It’s the type of song that sets N0V3L apart from their contemporaries.
“INTEREST FREE” features a military-march style drumming pattern that acts as a conductor, almost dictating Varley as he sings disjointed references to consumption. As a city whose wealth is almost entirely a slick veneer, Vancouver’s population, by and large, are not wealthy. Referencing an unregulated market, one of the largest housing bubbles in the country, and the cost of living continually rising, N0V3L’s artistic expression is authoritative; they know what they are talking about and mean what they say.
NON-FICTION does not exist as an isolated Vancouver-only narrative. Look at any city across Canada or the globe, and you will find the symptoms of late-capitalism described in NON-FICTION. Every city feels these same effects. Even small towns and bedroom communities are affected, maybe especially so. N0V3L tells devastating and truthful stories about the destruction caused by the capitalist system. They are hard to hear, but if anything is to be done to stop it, they are stories we need to hear.