Favorite Tracks: “Alone Too,” “Affection,” “The Art of Sleeping In,” “Make It All Right (Damage),” “Think of Me None”
For anyone that was tracking the Arizona rock scene for the early part of the decade (and that’s an insanely small minority of people), both The Thin Bloods and Numb Bats would’ve been logical safe bets not just to break out of the greater Phoenix scene, but to find success perhaps nationally tapping into the larger canon of indie rock. So when members of both bands (along with Sun Ghost member Chris Gerber) combined to make Nanami Ozone, on paper that project seemed like a sure thing. Combine the dry tiredness of Colson Miller’s workmanlike guitar playing and vocals with Sophie Opich’s unhinged twee-meets-proto-punk unpredictability, along with the collective group’s ear for elevated garage rock, something was bound to catch. And it did, kind of. The band’s debut, DESIRE, carried with it all of their presumed history, but the thing was that those sounds worked so well together.
When signing with Tiny Engines (one of the 48th’s musical high points this decade, alongside the rise of Stateside Presents, Injury Reserve, and that time Damon Albarn denounced that touring boycott of AZ), I personally had reservations about how well the sounds on DESIRE would translate to what was going to be a national audience, because in 2018 and 2019, the jagged-edged indie rocker isn’t as easy a sell as it once was. Most of DESIRE’s songs, “Be Cool to Me,” “Push Me Down the Stairs,” “Wet Mouth,” and “I Dunno,” in particular, were just the best versions of songs that could’ve been written in either The Thin Bloods or Numb Bats, and while I mean that as the highest compliment—these musicians were extrapolating something pretty elevated out of each other on the album—how much success could they find on a bigger stage?
And fortunately, the answer to that came in the form of a slight pivot. Rather than taking the aforementioned songs as a platform to build on, they took the fuzzier explosions in DESIRE’s tracklist, the breath-holding, knockout self-titled track, the aching soloing in “Clear,” and especially the thrashy grunge whip of “Michigan Man,” and covered it in a sleeker, noisier, and decidedly louder finish. NO, their sophomore album, is, in a lot of ways, a reintroduction to the band or, for those just catching on, a reinvention. A reminder that musical growth and sonic shifts as a band can frequently happen outside of what’s being released on record, NO finds the band shedding their previous musical identities three years later in ways that work far more seamlessly than they should.
There’s no need to beat around the bush here: Nanami Ozone are now a shoegaze band. Even if the band would’ve called themselves that on DESIRE, this is a more classically defined shoegaze record, something that instantly forces comparisons to Swervedriver’s guitar tones and Chapterhouse’s doom and gloom. Miller’s vocals are a source of comfort right off the bat, really laying into the musicality in ways that he would disjointedly ride against previously. Opener, “Sidewalks,” amps the guitar up to 11, lathering into a pounding rhythm—the image of the band meekly staring at their Chuck Taylors in a dark club as they pound away is almost too perfect, even if it couldn’t be further from the energy they exude live.
Opich makes the most of her vocal turns on the record, particularly on single “Alone Too,” where the vocal chorus carries with it a kind of bedroom pop twist in her delivery of “I don’t wanna be at home / but I don’t wanna be alone too.” The monstrous “Something to You” provides a portrait of Nanami Ozone’s most obvious point of comparison: Sonic Youth. While less chaotic, the melodic finishes and Oprich’s delivery of the songs’ breakdown is deeply indebted to Kim Gordon, and even the build hits on that band’s more commercially viable attempts at shoegazing pop.
NO feels fresh, and not just when comparing to what came before it. As tired and buzzy as it is to throw around names like Sonic Youth or Swervedriver (and this site is as guilty of that kind of myth-making as anyone else), there is a thing that’s all its own being explored here, an energy that’s focused and exciting, a band of journeymen musicians knowing they have everything about this on lock-down. By the end of the record, we see glimpses of the old band. On an album filled with delightfully fuzzy guitar tones, “Erase Time” is a restrained ballad in the midst of chaos, and “Make It Alright (Damage)” begins as a lumbering slowcore jam before trading off turning into a roaring, drifting early ‘90s guitar riffs, the kind that would make Billy Corgan proud. And for as clean as it sounds, there’s an imperfection to the playing on “Think of Me None” that, even if it contextually fits who the band is now, nonetheless recalls the spirit of TWIN TUMORS, VOL. 1’s “Sharp Teeth” or GENTLE HORROR’s “I Want You.” NO crosses the low bar of being one of Phoenix’s best exports of the decade, but even outside of a local music scene, the whirring, buzzing guitars here and the interplay between all four musicians make for one of the more reinvigorated-feeling shoegaze records in years.