NO NO by Co La
Favorite Tracks: “Gush”, “Suffering (Tuesday)”, “Crank”
Let me come right out and say it: in the entire English language, there’s no more pretentious a phrase than “avant-garde electronic project.” NO NO by experimental Baltimore artist Co La is a self-proclaimed avant-garde electronic project; a concept album exploring his “interest in the never ending psycho-drama that is the American news cycle (f5 syndrome), blanketed with a style of auditory/performative humor that operates as a coping strategy, a modifier for an otherwise oblique sonic world.” This is not an album everyone will want to subject themselves to, but those who do will discover a fascinating world that’s equal parts amusing, dazzling, and deeply unnerving. From beginning to end, the album pounds you with a wall of sounds that oftentimes refuse to fit comfortably into traditional song structures.
That’s not to say that NO NO doesn’t have a beat – quite the opposite. The relentless industrial sounds of keyboards clacking and printing presses whirring being are the most consistent elements on this otherwise spastic album. Based on the premise, the question for this album becomes how to represent news media, a text and image driven medium, with sounds. Using the sounds of machines that churn out the news we consume every day is the clearest way to create the atmosphere of news on a purely sonic level. Building on these thematic layers, Co La sprinkles in regular cartoonish sound effects that reflect on the need to make all news entertaining all of the time. These sounds, that might at first seem light, are repeated so frequently that they take on a certain menace and suggest that even the lighter side of news has a darker intention behind it. In particular, samples of people laughing are looped until they begin to sound manic rather than happy. This bleeds into the next concept Co La explores, almost every track featuring darker instrumentals that play out in the background – there is always a sinister side to everything you take in from the news even if at first it doesn’t seem that way.
The thing that makes this album interesting is that once you are given the premise, it’s impossible to not start reflecting on the news you take in every day. The opening track “Squeeze” features the unmistakable sounds of alarms going off, birds chirping, and breakfast being eaten. It tells an auditory story about the morning routine so many people participate in and the way news inserts itself into that routine. At one point in the track, voices chant French letters at the listener, suggesting that most people need a news story “spelled out” for them. The de facto single from NO NO, “Suffering (Tuesday),” features vocal samples that are initially garbled but eventually come through clearly, as though they needed a second to properly load through a spotty internet connection. The effect the internet has on news weighs heavily on most of this album. The manic frenzy the tracks will verge into is oftentimes unsettling, but not unlike the constant pounding of updates from various news media sites we subject ourselves to. This could all be conjecture that’s wildly off from what Co La was intending, but that’s part of the excitement of projects like this. It’s entirely open to interpretation.