OK, this one is going to be hard to review so I’m just going to start like this: Elizabeth Color Wheel‘s Nocebo is one of the more earnest records I’ve heard in a long time. Forget the musicality of it for a second; it’s just extremely honest. You can hear each musician’s heart laid bare on this album, highly emotional and visceral in its delivery, whether it’s hitting hard or droning softly to itself. The passion which drives it is very close to the surface and “sells” the album regardless (and in support of, of course) of anything going on it musically. It helps that the music is also great; Nocebo runs the gamut of punk, indie rock, and drone without missing a beat, always revolving around the lead vocals and their need to express themselves.
The first track, “Pink Palm”, exhibits those punk tendencies early on. Above fast guitars, indulgent vocals drawl on with an almost disinterested tone. The drums and bass follow the guitars and create the sensation of fast aggression that’s the hallmark of punk for the majority of the track. Near the middle though, the vocals take flight into their own psychedelic mode and a sea-change goes over the instruments as well, as they move to play in an even faster tempo but with a more melodic tinge. This all crashes against the final segments of the track, when the guitar dominates the space as the other instruments go silent, singing to itself over its own feedback, this first segment hinting towards some of the more ambient ideas to come.
When the vocals return, they are heartfelt and expansive, slowly culminating towards an emotional height mixed with raw vulnerability that reminds us of Bent Knee‘s outros and overall dramatic sensibility. Elsewhere, the Bent Knee comparison serves again, like on “Life of a Flower”, where the sing song quality of the vocals and their juxtaposition with the strummed guitars create an enchanting kind of off-kilter atmosphere. These evocative moments on the album, later extrapolated into heavier sensations as the rest of the instrumentation returns to crash around us, are the most interesting on the album. This is where that passion and drive come into play, as the listener is directly exposed to the range of emotions the music tries to communicate via sheer power of delivery.
In other points, especially the excellent “Bedrest”, a more subtle approach is taken as the band collapse into what is essentially a drone composition. The guitars are slow and caressing, not quite as slow and honey-drenched as Earth but not far from it either. Faint vocals line can be heard on the first few moments of the track but otherwise, static rules the rest of the mix. All of this seeps through to the listener, communicating in other, less vocal ways but still communicating, pouring emotions into the music that’s being made. Of course, this is all a setup; the next track, “34th”, not only features the return of the vocals and the fast tempo but even hints of blast-beats, screams, and is overall one of the heaviest tracks on the album, right after the more ambient, drone track.
As you might be able to tell, Nocebo is a ride and a half. It’s an extremely expressive album that isn’t afraid to run its expression through several types of methods, coming at the listener from a diverse set of ideas and sounds. This also makes it far from accessible, necessitating several listens in order to parse. For those who are captured by its beguiling atmosphere, heavy, spastic moments, and raw, bleeding-heart emotionality, there lies a unique album that doesn’t sound quite like anything else.
Nocebo releases on March 15th. You can pre-order it via the Bandcamp link above!