NO/NO is celebrating half a decade in existence with a new album release party and a final show. After five years, a stellar album, three equally good EPs and a WAMI Award, the group — which includes Harrison Colby (guitar, synth, vocals), Cat Ries (synth, vocals), Ryan Reeve (bass) and Jeremy Ault (drums) — will release its second and final album, "Diagnostic," via Gloss Records which can be acquired either digitally or on cassette.
In a press release, Colby stated, "The album is the perfect swan song for our band. We’re happy to be saying our goodbyes on a good note and leaving with an album that represents the direction we would’ve kept moving in."
NO/NO also posted a farewell to its Facebook page: "It’s bittersweet to end such a creatively fulfilling project, but it’s certainly ending on a high note."
Unsatisfied with the lack of details, I sent Colby a few follow-up questions, and he eloquently provided a little more context in what comprises a positive break-up.
"We started this band five years ago in the midst of a pretty tumultuous time in our lives. The lead singer of our then current band (The Delphines) left with very little notice, and we had just released an album that we couldn’t tour on or even feel good about continuing to play. We didn’t want to stop our momentum as artists and musicians for even a couple weeks.
Our first band practice with our new singer, Cat Ries, was only a week later. She brought an amazing presence and talent to what was initially just one song ("Red Flag") and a concept for a band. From that practice on, we were NO/NO and a completely new project. We threw out all the old songs and wrote new ones and continued to write/record/perform and tour for the next couple years, eventually replacing our original bassist (Lucas Riddle with Ryan Reeve) as well."
Not to sound mundane but over five/six years, you do a lot of growing. I was 25 when we started and am now 31. Interests change, priorities shift, and over the past two years specifically, it became extremely hard for us to work at the same pace, with the same drive and on the same schedule. Once that feeling hung around for a little too long, it felt like a natural time to close the chapter on this band, but this time amicably and with a final project of sorts to send it off with."
"The main difference is that first time around wasn’t planned," Colby reminded me.
And if it weren’t for Ault, this pattern may not have been established.
"I personally wanted to end quietly, but it was Jeremy and Ryan who made Cat and I see the responsibility aspect," wrote Colby. "Jeremy was dead set on recording the songs we had – some of which were just demos – and Ryan was the one who said it was important to be transparent. If it was the last one, and if we played a last show, make that known to people, not go quietly into the night. So I think it was both a responsibility to fans to hear something final and definitive as much as a responsibility to ourselves to finish what we’ve spent so much time and energy crafting."
The Delphines and NO/NO are two bands are different of course, but since both acts have Colby’s distinct thumbprint and a nostalgic love for '80s-style alt pop sounds, it’s easy to follow the transitional thread from The Delphines’ first recordings (such as the Local Live show on WMSE back in 2012) through that break-up and onward to NO/NO’s "Diagnostic."
Indeed, the opening songs on the album – "The Last Thing You Said" and "Detoxification" – lean much more heavily on the jumpy guitar sounds of the past. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the sound of the group is regressing. Ault’s drumming has improved drastically over the years, wearing into the comfortable rhythm of a practiced percussionist, advancing from basic staccato beats.
And the recording and production feels much more lively, with tracks that are laden with enough reverb to establish a "place" and bring the walls of the club to your ears.
The album deftly traverses between excitable pop hooks and melodramatic swooning synths – such as "The Tourist" or "Divination" – and sometimes a combination of both. Any of these songs would be perfectly at home at a nostalgic John Hughes-style sock hop.
A few of the songs tread into some more experimental, noisy territories (though not so far that they’d scare anyone off). These diversions don’t signal a try-hard artist, but a general groove and playfulness that only comes with knowledge and skill that was acquired over years of progress.
And, as if the album was meant to mirror trajectory our too-short time with the group, the final song, "A Constant State of Flux," arrives quickly and ends abruptly, reminding us that nothing lasts forever.
Maybe not, but … ugh … maybe just a little longer?
"I definitely feel that art has its own trajectory once its out there for public consumption," said Colby. "We will see with ‘Diagnostic.’ I feel pretty strongly about this one and think we are ending on our highest note. It’s my favorite record we’ve made, in that it pulls together all the threads of what we were trying to do this whole time, and more succinctly. To me, that defines success. You’re proud of something that will stick around (hopefully) long after you are [gone]."
I couldn’t agree more.
You’ll have one last chance to see NO/NO at the album release party on Sept. 21 at The Mad Planet with a door deal that'll get you a copy of the new album. If you want your future kids parsing through your cassette collection, full of saudade, wistfully imagining how cool the music scene must’ve been back then, and how lucky you must’ve been for getting to see such a transcendent band live, I recommend you get out there.
Then, after the sun rises the next morning, you can continue to follow the group’s individual projects.
"Cat is in the band Credentials (a noise rock supergroup of sorts), Ryan and I are in the band Rexxx with an album very near on the horizon, I am still playing in Sex Scenes who just released a record, and Jeremy (drums) is still playing with Pay the Devil."
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.