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Album Premiere: Hypocritic Oath by Not Of

Not Of - Photo Credit: Mitch Barnes
17 July 2018

Not Of – Photo Credit: Mitch Barnes

Canadian noise rock duo Not Of formed in 2012, but didn’t release anything until 2015 when they put out their debut album Pique, which was widely well received. Meanwhile, Not Of gained a reputation as a spartan yet monstrous live duo. Loud, but also deft and deceptively dense and textured.

John Ex (guitar, vocals) and Victor Malang (drums, vocals) returned to the studio for two years to record what would end up being the 9 tracks on their second offering, Hypocritic Oath, which comes out July 20th via No List Records. Naked brutality, confident hooks, explosive vocals, and found sounds and collages under long moments of hum and distortion run through Hypocritic Oath. It’s addictive, feral noise rock from start to finish. Your only guide is uncompromising instinct.

Tunes like “Barb Dwyer, Esq.” and sludgy centerpiece “The Goat” commit to a type of raw aggression that Pique barely hinted at. Elsewhere, “Astoria Jack” and “Fix Don’t Fix” nestle in hooks more confidently than ever before. But the biggest change is how, for such a still concise album, Hypocritic Oath is not in any hurry to get places. All throughout, it is peppered with found sounds and collages, distortion, and buzz that soundtrack a disorienting meditation. Finally, closing pair “It’s Curtains, She Said” and “You Believers” is a perfect example of how patience has tempered the band’s outlook.

It’s an album centered on both muscular force and moments of unfiltered vulnerability. Jagged guitar riffs combined with pounding, complex drums patterns wouldn’t work in 2018 without excellent songs, and throughout the album the writing shines through. Each track has a point to make above and beyond the dissonant pandemonium. Hypocritic Oath is one the year’s most riveting listens, wild and noisy, the way rock ‘n’ roll was meant to be played.

TRACK BY TRACK in the words of John Ex:

“The 2016 Idiot Blues”:
“This was one of the last songs to be written, after it felt clear that we needed a ‘riff’ tune to help the record introduce itself. In hindsight, we could’ve returned to the riff at the end, but whatever – you always want what you don’t have.”

“Thematically, the line “Maybe I’m too easy to please now that you’re gone” just kinda came to me phonetically with the riff and it stuck. It’s one of those lines that I hope means whatever you want to put upon it – a good way to start a record, I think.”

“For me, it comes from dealing with a messy bout of depression in 2016 and how weirdly ephemeral that state can be. To go from weeks and months of not wanting to get out of bed to suddenly feeling ‘normal’ without really understanding what changed is… disorienting. The title refers to that kind of depression that almost feels viral or like a contagion – King Midas in reverse” sort of thing. The song loosely sets off an unofficial opening kinda triptych (fancy!) about what was a bad state of mind for me, which continues with…”

“Watch Him, They Said”:
“Paranoia! Yay! This is the oldest song on the record. It was written as Pique was coming out and arrived pretty much fully formed. Victor said that the song should be about someone watching someone. So I just went with it. I’m not an especially conspiratorial person, but there’s definitely something about the present age that heightens paranoia in even the most secure person. It’s not just about the fact that so much of what we do and say is out there and accessible to seemingly whomever wants it. It’s that in our personal relationships, a simple lack of response for a friend can lead to days of freaking out: “Why didn’t they get back to me? I also didn’t see her at the party? Do they know something? Is that why I’m being shut out?”“

“What stupid bullshit to be thinking. I think about it a fair bit, so…”

“Fix Don’t Fix”:
“Moving on… addiction! This is not a drug song. I can’t even begin to claim to be that dangerous or transgressive. But in other ways, I have absolutely found myself both aware of and powerless (or more unwilling) to stop certain all-consuming, repeated, and destructive behaviors simply because I was chasing a high. In a way, making music is one of them.”

“Anyway, I’m all better now. Next.”

“Astoria Jack”:
“A funny thing happened while we were working on Hypocritic Oath, our sophomore record, out July 20 via No List Records. In the post-release amphetamine rush of our 2015 debut, Pique, a flurry of writing occurred, leading to an August 2015 session that was going to be our quick-strike follow-up. Except that one studio session turned into two. Then three, then four. And five. The writing never really stopped. And with each gig, we – and the possibilities of what was to come – kept evolving. Eventually, frustration turned to acceptance, even excitement. Choosing to listen to what these experiences were teaching us, we returned to our original philosophy – Let the record tell you when it’s done, not the other way around.”

“One of the later emerging tunes was this one, “Astoria Jack”. Its central riff was stolen from an earlier song for this LP that we wisely jettisoned (but a demo of which makes a fleeting appearance in one of Oath’s sound collages). Its surprisingly tricky syncopation is what led to the record’s only real vocal splitting between me and Victor (and which it’s all the better for). Speaking of which, its lyrics are some of the more consequential on the LP, but really they all boil down to the chorus: “It feels so good to save you”. We ignore a lot when we appoint ourselves saviors of others.”

“The Goat”:
“I watch a lot of sports. When you have a star athlete that is both highly gifted and terribly miscast within a team, it’s usually a mess – the kind of mess that nurtures a dangerous optimism that is always on the edge of a panicked revolt. I was thinking about Phil Kessel’s time as a Leaf specifically here, but it could be about any player whose talents were/are never going to be enough to right a team’s troubled ship. I also think it’s funny how the case of the letters is all that separates “goat” being used to describe either a team’s best player or the poor soul who carries the most blame for a loss. Maybe that’s because they’re often the same person?”

“Also, this is the best of many examples of when I come up with a drumbeat for a riff and Victor makes it way better by simplifying it to its most brutal essence. He’s an amazing thinker of the drums.”

“Barb Dwyer, Esq.”:
“A silly word play title for an absurd song about being your own worst enemy/getting off on ruining everything for yourself. Also notable for the fact that it includes one of the rare moments where Victor – the most picky guy I’ve ever seen in a studio – allowed a drum “mistake” to stay in the tune. See if you can find it.”

“Dear Mr. Speaker”:
“You know when a politician gets all teary and emotional over something, but it’s all just a rhetorical device to convey an empathy that doesn’t exist in that person? Of course you do. I feel like we’re in an age where this kind of faux compassion is on steroids – It’s a race to the bottom to hijack causes and use fake concern to fuck the very people who are fighting for said cause. Again, it’s always been this way with humanity. It just feels especially heightened currently. So, this is a political song (Oh, great, no, I’m still listening), but it’s also really just about people, too.”

“It’s Curtains, She Said”:
“I used to play a ton of Ebow. It was my thing. But not in this band. So when I went to use it on this track, its batteries were dying. That ended up being a nice accident.”

“You Believers”:
I’m an atheist. Most of the time, I’m fine with this. But when my uncle died in September 2015, it set off a bit of a chain reaction that at least put me in the headspace of understanding better why some people need a religion in their lives. Atheism just kind of leaves you hanging there, you know? Anyway, this situation then led to another thought, which was basically: If losing my uncle and being afraid of death is something that sends me crawling to a religion, then that’s pretty fucking pathetic. Hence, “Just can’t give in to this heaven.” Incidentally, I’m not intending for this song to judge people who choose a religion, even if they’re driven there by a moment of crisis. It’s really just a song about questioning my own faith in atheism. Can science and simple logic comfort me now? Turns out, it eventually could, but that was a freaky few weeks. Musically, this song was once uncomfortably close to an Old Man Gloom tune, until we slowed it down to a crawl. Then I sorta undid it all by obliquely referencing the sickly guitar tapestries of Aaron Turner anyway in the album’s noise finale. Anyway, if you’re out there, Aaron, I love what you do to a guitar. I hope you like our record.”

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