Bands come and go. It’s just the way things work: bands form; bands make their mark (or not); and, provided the guitarist isn’t named Keith Richards, bands end. They flame out, fizzle out, or simply disappear. Out with the old, in with the new. The circle of life and all that.
But there’s something different about the end of NO/NO. It’s more than the end of a band; it’s the end of an era in Milwaukee music. Yes, the Milwaukee new wave-y synth-rock outfit has just released its new full-length record, Diagnostic, which also happens to be its last. It’s a thrilling, ambitious, and effortlessly cool album. It’s classic NO/NO. It’s a hell of a goodbye.
“This album is the perfect swan song for our band,” says songwriter/guitarist/singer Harrison Colby. “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.”
The origin of NO/NO is well-worn territory, but it’s worth repeating one last time: The group formed from the ashes of The Delphines in 2014, keeping that band’s sense of pop-minded, sinewy sexiness and giving it a synth-heavy twist. Fronted by Colby and singer-keyboardist Cat Ries, NO/NO released two stellar four-song EPs in 2014 (Drag and X.O.) and quickly established itself as one of the city’s finest bands. That claim was further cemented with 2016’s best-Milwaukee-album-of-the-year Sound And Light. If any one song sums up the past decade of Milwaukee music, it’s “Whatever,” Sound And Light‘s monster single and final track:
NO/NO evolved into a full-on synth force the following year (with Jeremy Ault on drums and Ryan Reeve on bass) with the five-song Twentysomethings EP. And now there’s Diagnostic, a sometimes noisier, sometimes dreamier, and sometimes more direct amalgamation of the band’s guitar/synth tendencies. Here it is:
From its inception, NO/NO was one of the flagship groups of Gloss Records. Looking at the list of artists who have released music on Gloss over the years is to look at some of Milwaukee’s top talent: Lorde Fredd33, Marielle Allschwang, Rio Turbo, Surgeons In Heat, more. Here was a label that boasted records from such disparate artists as Soul Low, Foreign Goods, Hello Death, Dashcam, and Sex Scenes, and it all made some sort of sense.
To get personal for a moment: It’s easy for older folks (I’m 41; hi!) to think of the years that they happened to be in their 20s as the best years of the Local Music Scene. NO/NO was among the (many) groups that negated that notion for me. Back when I was playing out with my own band, I would have killed to play with a group like NO/NO. They were thrilling to watch live. They were sexy without being ironic. They combined the voices of Colby and Ries to somehow create a third voice. They defined a moment in time. And, most importantly, they weren’t afraid to write a hooky pop song. Here’s “Mistakes,” a highlight from the Drag EP:
But for all the eulogizing, there’s something heartening—if bittersweet—about nature taking its course. NO/NO formed, NO/NO made its mark, and NO/NO ended (amicably, by the way). Out with the old, in with the new. Like the final song on the band’s final album says, everything is in a constant state of flux. It’s just the way things work.
Diagnostic is available now on cassette for $6. A “Breakup Bundle” that includes everything the band has done is available for $30. NO/NO’s final show is set for Saturday, September 21 at Mad Planet. Dirty Dancing, Holy Shit!, and Storm Chaser will play in support. Don’t miss it.