Owned since: 2008
Genre: Canadian jazz-punk
Where I bought it: Long gone record store
Label/pressing: Wrong Records
A big ? nn this one because while I don’t own Wrong on vinyl, I do own it on cassette and CD which, well, seems reason enough to do an entry on it. Even more since it’s the Album Club record of the week (coming tomorrow) and I can’t seem to let this moment pass to talk about some of my favorite Canadians.
NoMeansNo is dead, and honestly it’s better this way. Not because they started to suck, far from it, but Rob & John Wright and their bassist deserve rest after nearly 40 years of being one of the hardest working punk bands around. Calling NoMeansNo punk is weird because their sound is so far removed from the 3 chord punk tunes it is pretty much like calling a cabbage an orange, but still it’s all about the spirit. Which they had, always, always but the music of NoMeansNo is one that doesn’t really let itself be captured in a genre. It’s very much post-hardcore in the classic 80’s sense but also includes a ton of jazz influences and a lot of noise rock ones. Just overall, it was and still is a completely unique sound that’s never been really recreated by any other band since. And boy, honestly, you can hear the controlled musical mayhem .
When I go to concerts I do a lot of people watching, not in a mean spirited way but just watching whoever came to the show even more when I come alone to one. Which happens a lot, my taste is weird and the people I go to concerts with are, well, flakey. It’s funny to see stereotypes (the endless array of twee guys to Belle and Sebastian) and the weird offbeat trends you noticed (there are a lot of guys in black metal shirts at this Marissa Nadler show looking very awkwardly at each other). It kills some time and really showcases how awkward we are as humans in public spaces. A NomeansNo gig used to mean the whole punk/hardcore scene of the 80s would get their dad bodies to a venue in the Netherlands to utterly wallop the shit out of each other pogoing. Just a bunch of guys who are either dressed in khakis and button up shirts or tour shirts from tours that at the latest were from 2002 absolute buggering the shit out of each other. I remember one time at the ill-fated WATT venue where the band played in the basement which was equipped with some weird kind of high tech light up disco floor which they forgot to shut off during the first songs. So you just saw sharp colours lighting up a bunch of 40-50 year olds pogoing the shit out of each other. This is the rare stuff that makes me miss live concerts.
I saw NoMeansNo live around 8-10 times, I honestly can’t recall how much anymore. Every half year the band seemed to tour Europe and they always had around 5 dates in the Netherlands, which most of the time weren’t sellouts but would lead to packed venues. You could pretty much set your clock on it and it was always great. Never a bad show through the band’s fault and always still playing the same venues they had in the end 80’s like the old Doornroosje (RIP) or Groniongen’s (in)famous Vera and pretty much drawing the same crowd. Well, beside 16-22 year old me in this sea of dads. It’s hard to explain the pull NoMeansNo has with the Netherlands, it just happened through endless touring in the end to late 80’s they built up a fanbase that always was ready for their weird blend of jazz infused noise rock. The music website I used to be on as a teen always had loads of the older posters pushing Wrong and doing meetups at their gigs. So much so, that the (amazing) live album and video Live+Cuddely is mostly recorded in the Netherlands. It might be because Andy Kerr married a Dutch woman and has been living here since the early 90’s after he left the band, I don’t know.
There’s this song on Sex Mad which captures NoMeansNo perfectly called Metronome. It’s 5 and a half minutes of the same bass line slowly shifting in and out of different speeds with the drumming never missing a beat like a human Metronome. That is what Nomeansno is; a metronome, always perfectly in sync with each other even if it spills out in weird ways.
To get to Wrong, you also need to cover the albums leading up to it. Whereas the band’s first record was just recorded by the Wright brothers without a lead guitarist, Rob plays guitar on it beside the bass, it already showcases the bare structure of the band. Loads of jazz influenced drumming and bass playing spiking it more heavily then later records, really travels into jazz combo music or even dub. Mostly through Rob’s deep funky bass sounds and John’s weird jazzy drumming, the A-side feels like a lot of experimentation mostly, but the B-side is a nearly formed band already. It all sounds like the future records but just a bit more minimal and sketch based, and also just a lot less punk filled. There is even a piano led faux-jazz track on it, but No Rest For the Wicked already showcased their manic style with endless call and response lyrics by the brothers.
Sex Mad, all of a sudden the band has a guitarist called No One Particular which of course is Andy Kerr, their guitarist up to 0+2=1. It’s also the first real record by the band, all the pieces fall into place here even though it remains a bit rough about the edges. But boy, with a guitarist (and second lead vocalist) the band really hits its stride, still based on the Wright brothers’ bass and drum combo setup with Kerr just adding the much needed guitar mayhem and a for sure needed second vocalist over it. Like Mama, this really showcases the call-and-response style the band really used for most of their best records, let’s return to Metronome for that which has Kerr shouting STEADY and doubling up on all of Wright’s lyrics pretty much which gives it a weird sports anthem-like edge.
Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed is insane. Literally insane. There is so much neck-breaking instrument work on this that I have a hard time recalling a other band pulling this off in the late 80’s punk sphere. It also might be my favorite record by the band; where Wrong is by far the most polished effort, Small Parts is a band finally giving into their own insanity. Which leads to the chugging speed punk of Teresa, Give Me That Knife and the near 10 minute dirge (in the best way) of Real Love which is just, well, the same chords getting louder and louder. It’s such a weird massive sound that the band would mostly get known for it.
Well time for Wrong, I guess. It’s the record where everything pretty much clicked for the band, a surreal loud record that hangs (even) more to punk/post-rock than their efforts before and is just such a goddamn headache in the best way. This is step above the mayhem of Small Parts but also at the same time a lot more controlled, no more sprawling 8-10 minutes song but 5-6 ones intercut with 1-2 minute fast punk songs and the real 3 minute showstoppers. It leaves nearly no moment for rest and literally tires me, but in a way that isn’t unpleasant. The energy is infectious, even more in a live setting, through a weird mix of two chord punk songs and sprawling weird math rock like pieces.
Because honestly, the moments which give the album the most life are the fast moving punk songs; Brainless Wonder, Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue and Oh No! Bruno! were played nearly every time I saw them live and for good reasons. They’re pretty much perfect punk songs, bratty but also simple enough to yell along with and be done under 3 minutes. Even more for Oh No Bruno which uses its title for one of the most easy-to-scream choruses in punk history.
Against that, well, goes the more spin out stuff like the jaunty Rags and Bones with its lyrics about white man singing and old sailors at sea. Mostly built around an endless loop bass riff that slowly moves to the funky end where it just keeps looping its lyrics endlessly. It is what drives Wrong pretty much; repetition and slowly breaking up said repetition. A bassline might keep chugging out the same lick for half of the song but break into the chorus with a full blown solo and then returns to the same lick as before. It’s something that is closer to free jazz than to rock music a lot of the time, where improvisation among a slightly set out mainline is the lead not pre-rehearsed sounds and that’s how this record sounds. Like, all these songs were pretty obviously born out of improvisation by the band members because it’s way too complete sounding too. It is also so deeply based around the bass guitar, but never forgetting the guitar and drum which play more against it than with it.
Just such an absolute unique record that NoMeansNo or anyone never made again. Or well kinda, you got the previous refenced Live+Cuddly, which is a tape and record release (with different setlists) comprising pretty much the EU tour following Wrong. It’s among my favorite records ever; these songs just pack a little more punch live even more with the band racing through Wrong tracks and loads of classics but also includes their off-key stage banter.
An absolute scorcher version of Metronome, also, which morphs into a near 8 minute massive monotone for Kerr to rant over. The live tape captures (parts) of a show at the Vera in Groningen and the record also includes songs from the Effenaar in Eindhoven which is pretty much the second big music venue near me for ‘alternative-ish’ music. Both are still going strong, there’s also some cut footage with the band playing Brainless Wonder at the venue Urban Dance Squad started in Utrecht de Vrije Vloer.
When Kerr left the band, after the also excellent 0+2=1, is one the brothers recorded Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? which sees the band return to their sound around Mama quite a bit. More minimal and a bit more down beaten, which leads to a record I don’t play a lot but really is among their strongest work. The Worldhood of the World (As Such) sees guitarist Tom Holliston joining the band, in a spot he held till the end of the band’s run, and sees the band deliver a record that is pretty much the perfect entry to their stuff. A bit more soft and less insane than their best stuff, it is honestly the perfect record to get a feel for these weirdo Canadians.
All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt; ausfahrt means exit in German, making this a good title for the band’s last record even though they would remain touring till around 2014. It leans a bit harder into the noise rock stylings and even hardcore punk with the infectious So Low, but still sounds extremely fresh for a band hitting 35+ years then. The band would tour and in 2016 would be included in the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame and pretty much retire quietly after that.
There’s no band like NoMeansNo, discounting their Slap Shot tribute Ramones punk band the Hanson Brothers, and there will honestly never be. It’s rare to find such technically gifted musicians playing punk influenced music in the first place, even more with the sense of irony and wonder NoMeansNo did for nearly their whole run. Even deep in their 50s, the band were touring more than most younger bands and remained one of my favorite live acts ever. It’s also not like they are sitting still all of a sudden, John Wright is nowadays writing a lot of the music for Compressorhead, which yes are those internet favorites robotic rock band. Here he is seen drumming against the robotic band in the most punk robocop reboot so far.
NomeansNo is dead, long live NomeansNo pretty much. Let’s close out with their cover of Subhumans great Oh Canaduh to close this tribute to one of Canada’s finest.
SlootMeansThoughts: I disagree with this a bit, I think Wrong is the perfect entry point for this band. It’s where I got started, before this and album club, and even as someone who isn’t deep into math rock or jazz and I guess punk (dependent on whatever shifting definition of punk is du jour), Wrong is pretty much a perfect album.