Noir Disco’s NOW! 2073
1. Before diving into Noir Disco’s debut LP, mention must be made of the Chicago band’s lush, glimmering five-track EP, Love Me (2017). Brothers Nolan and Carter Dickson were only 19 and 21, respectively, when they released this collection of lucent, multilayered psychedelia. But this EP is no dismissible juvenilia: from the outset, Noir Disco exudes a finely balanced creative sensibility: nimbly swerving between the poles of serious musical virtuosity and sparkling, outrageous humour. Only by navigating this tightrope can the band pull off a song like “Me”; this track, with its blend of haunted, soaring, trippy sonic strata and comical playfulness, exemplifies Noir Disco’s style. “Me” opens, lyrically, with the question, “What about me?” Very few bands could ask such a question in a serious song while deftly sidestepping any hint of narcissism. Yet Noir Disco does just that. Or, rather than sidestepping, the brothers Dickson offer us a critique of the navel-gazing indie music scene (and wider American culture) they emerged from. But they do it without losing an ounce of their creative integrity.
One cannot discuss Noir Disco without examining the ingenuity of their self-produced music videos, the first of which is the video for Love Me’s third track, “Escapade”, an intimate assemblage of iPhone clips that epitomizes Noir Disco’s braiding of devil-may-care self-deprecation and nuanced sonic maturity. We will leave a link here for the reader to see this video for herself, and use the rest of this article to focus on the forthcoming LP, NOW! 2073, and its equally inventive videos.
Noir Disco is, to my mind, better thought of as a multidisciplinary band, rather than one that simply throws together videos to go with the songs. It’s not easy to describe the dazzling zaniness that is Noir Disco, but let’s have a crack. The band has thus far produced seven videos, three of which are for songs from NOW! 2073; the video for “21st Century Hipster Man”, the album’s second track, opens with Carter’s head superimposed onto the body of a cartoon bee flying through a hand-drawn world of rudimentary flowers. Carter soon starts making out with another bee, who later morphs into a character named Bad Bunny. Carter is then chased by an evil cartoon gingerbread man. And then all through the rest of the video one bizarre character after another tumbles into this world of trees and flowers that looks like it’s been drawn by an impatient four year old set designer/god; oh look, there’s Nolan dressed as a gyrating squirrel; there’s (new band-member) Henry Miller in the form of a half-naked reindeer having some kind of pleasant psychic meltdown; and then we have guest appearances from “Foxy Katarina” and “Bad Bunny”.
Now, here’s Nolan the squirrel again, fully in-character. He’s the dandiest, most heartfelt squirrel to grace rock ‘n roll; and the video is wildly, ridiculously funny because of how seriously the trio act out these absurd roles. Yet, while prancing around as a squirrel, Nolan is singing the deep and dark lament of the alienated millennial (the 21st century hipster man) who “sits inside persuasion/ with all the pills he’s taken/ and he’s feeling like everybody knows”. It is this brilliant in-between-ness that is so characteristically Noir Disco: effortlessly straddling irony and earnestness. The chorus of “21st Century Hipster Man” is a succinct summing up of our culture’s malaise: “We feel so good when they talk about how good we are” but “we’re the only people who care about what they say”.
NOW! 2073 is a title which suggests an anticipatory retrospection across the wasteland of consumerist culture. Yet, the fact that there might still be humans producing pop music 50 years from now also hints at an infectious optimism that is subtly woven through everything Noir Disco creates. And this underlying joy is sublimely folded into a barrage of cultural references and allusions across the record and music videos. How many bands casually allude to a spectrum of pop symbols as varied as SpongeBob, The Beetles, Nickelback, Denny’s, MTV, Dragon Ball Z and Aqua? How many bands make videos featuring their members dressed up as TV sets with limbs that are swaying and melting like Dalí clocks? And further, how many bands can pull off this kind of commentary without being reduced to a meme, without diluting their fierce, warped, oracular rock distillation? Noir Disco somehow knits it all together effortlessly.
NOW! 2073 opens with the wistful rumination of the track “workCHANGEchangeWORK” in which the band contemplates the reality of having to grow up and become a functioning cog in the hyperreal image machine of postmodern America: “Oh I’m thinking of work, thinking of making money./ Ain’t it funny how I’m starting to change?” This poignant song ushers in a tonal shift away from the richly elaborate but thematically insular psych-pop contours of Love Me. This tone carries through the record, albeit with nuanced modulations. It is a style tinged with a certain “blue jeans” elegy, a world-weary ruggedness, but one that is balanced with the band’s playful, fuzzy, sonic pastiche.
This album has more standout moments than can be contained within the scope of this review, but let us try pick out some highlights: “Heart Pressure” is a climbing high-energy rock tune of sunny, synthy expansiveness, with a belting melody of yearning urgency. The title track “2073” is a twisting, slow-building groove, mesmeric and radiant, yet overlayed with Carter’s disaffected, strung-out vocals, his voice reaching back from the imagined desolation of the year 2073. But I think the song that best illustrates the refreshing idiosyncrasy of Noir Disco is “Los Angeles”, with its slurring baroque shimmer, its infectious bassline, cool textural swings and interludes, slowly ascending into a high sublime outro featuring an unexpected, whispery echo of The Cure braided with the famously gaudy lines from that Aqua song “Come on Barbie, let’s go party”.
This seamless collage of disparate materials and influences is part of what makes Noir Disco stand out as a band, a trio carving out an identity all their own. Many people have claimed the death of indie music in recent years, and I’d be lying if my Spotify algorithm didn’t sometimes deliver new music sounding about as fresh as a week-old gas station sandwich. But only sometimes. There are bands out there bypassing the old notion of “pushing the boundaries” of genre, bands more interested in shattering boundaries and stitching together their own subversive version of being a “rock ‘n roller”. Self-deprecation seems central to this endeavour in a supersaturated cultural landscape of marketability and branding. Noir Disco is one of these rare bands inhabiting the intersection of irreverence and sincerity (Alex Cameron, Pond, and The Lemon Twigs also come to mind), and NOW! 2073 is their glimmering, laughing, hopeful, deadly serious musical stake in the steaming, mediated cacophony of contemporary American culture.
NOW! 2073 was released on December 3rd 2021 and is available on all major streaming platforms.
Bren Booth-Jones is an Irish South African writer and co-editor of As Much Heart as a Vending Machine (forthcoming from The Hungry Ghost Project). Their debut book, Vertigo to Go, won the White Label Trois Competition and was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2020. Bren’s second collection, Open Letters to the Sky, is forthcoming from the same press. Recent work has appeared in Dreich, Feral, Redivider and elsewhere. Bren lives in Amsterdam. Find them on Twitter @BrendonBoothJo1 or at www.brendonboothjones.com.