Back before Covid-19 shut down the world, Oakland noise-rock quartet Nopes used to haul random books to their gigs. The books came in handy when they got to their song “Amber is the Color of Your Alert,” which opened with an off-kilter—and inordinately fast—punk-rock riff, followed by a sludgy, half-tempo meaty section that brought to mind the kind of alt-rock MTV played in the wee hours in the ’90s.
But the comparisons end there, as the song closed with a demented loungy section. It’s there that books came into play. Lead singer Alex Petralia would grab a book, randomly select a page and read a passage—a moment of unhinged insanity to complement their already-wild live show.
But at the end of 2019, when they went to Atomic Garden Recording Studio to track this song, they tried to figure out the right approach for capturing its vibe for the album. Then it struck them. Petralia hopped on the in-studio piano and played the worst solo he possibly could, which fit the dissonance of the lounge section perfectly.
“Amber” is one song of 13 off the group’s latest album, Djork, which was released on Jan. 29. The record is the group’s most cohesive output, a melding of Jesus Lizard, Hot Snakes and Fucked Up, but with their own distinct East Bay style, a joyous and cathartic release of all their frustrations in noise-punk form. This record, their third, balances two opposing elements: A sense of order that’s meticulously structured, with a sense of chaotic spontaneity—that thing which compels them to grab whatever seemingly mismatched instrument they might feel would enhance a song, be it an in-studio piano, a mouth harp or a trombone.
Some of this balance comes from the group’s development, but they also attribute some of the playfulness to Jack Shirley—owner and engineer of Atomic Garden—who created such a cozy, judgement-free environment, that all creative impulses were encouraged.
“The energy was high in the studio, and we just kind of nailed it,” says bassist Cole Gates. “I think a lot of the overdubs were pretty well planned. There are definitely parts that have elements of jazz, where we have a rough idea of what we do, but it’s still improvised.”
Both the trombone and the mouth harp are featured on the album’s final track, “Synonym for Defeat,” an 8-minute song the group describes as sounding like a “bad Sublime song,” even though it’s a deep, proto-metal-inspired, noise-rock track.
During the song, the band members repeat a simple, sludgy riff, and build off of it. During the outro, it gets gradually louder, in a way that is almost—but not quite— a joke.
“Just forcing the level of sound. We pushed it with Jack, trying to make it almost unlistenable at the end, where it just gets louder and louder,” Petralia says. “It’s a lot of fun and almost-comic relief. We pushed ourselves, as far as getting weird.”
Comic relief is needed for them right now, especially after sitting on the album for over a year and enduring everything that was 2020. Had a global pandemic not been in full swing, the group likely would have released the record last fall, with a tie-in tour. They love hitting the road and hitting some of their favorite Southwest spots like Dallas and Austin in the fall—cities that have amazing noise-rock scenes.
With all the uncertainty, it was difficult to find the right time to get the album out. So, they and their label decided now was the time.
“This is the first time I think I’ve ever done any kind of release in January,” Petralia says. “But I think all the rules are kind of thrown out now—a different dimension.”
This past year, some bands played socially distant shows, but not Nopes. To do that would have meant to completely alter their live experience. A good Nopes show happens inside a small basement with everyone packed in like sardines—a super-spreader event waiting to happen.
“We got pictures of us after playing, where we’re sweaty and snotty and gross but it feels good,” Petralia says. “I love that kind of energy and performance, like Bad Brains. Intense-ass shit.”
The band members are going to wait it out, for now, the group is happy to put this record out. And even if they can’t—yet—perform the songs for people, they at least feel comfortable knowing people all over can pop the album on and feel a momentary cathartic release of all their frustrations.
For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/nopesband/.