NYOS – Navigation (Meta Matter Records)
Released 29 September 2017
The third album from Finnish duo NYOS brings together a broad palette of influences to create huge grooves through their math rock foundation. Pete Darrington reviews.
NYOS have made me very cross. This is because the Finnish duo have nicked my idea for the coolest record ever. I like noisy shit – not just a good old fashioned rock n’ roll racket but using sound as texture and colour. I like music that doesn’t just break the rules of music, but blows raspberries and sticks two fingers up to them. I like math rock too. But while math rock is rhythmically interesting, it’s very much a follower of musical rules. The guitars are often clean, arpeggiating in a very complex but nevertheless very musical way. It’s (let’s face it) a bit show-offy. There’s nothing wrong with that – playing music in front of people is all about showing off, arguably – unless like me, you’re just too fat fingered to be able to play it yourself. I stand and watch math rock bands both loving it and hating it at the same time for that very reason.
But I digress. Anyway, I idly dreamt up my ultimate imaginary band – a band that combines the kind of cool quirky rhythms that make you feel like you can’t count properly with the kind of raw noisy rawkus rule breaking guitar based racket. I decided that I was very clever for thinking this combination up and then when I did get round to forming this band, we would make the coolest record ever. Well, now I’m going to have to think up something else super cool, because NYOS – the Finland based duo have only bloody gone and done it first.
Navigation, (their third album according to the biog, but the band are new to my ears) is a kitchen sink of genre borrowing – there’s the clean poly-rhythmic guitar arpeggios that are the signature of math rock, weaving complex patterns that might just possibly induce higher states of consciousness – or annoyance, depending on your musical taste, but also there are good old fashioned grooves that cleverly make the record less of an endurance test that a lot of mathy bands present the listener.
There are phat synth lines (yes, with a ‘ph’) that nod cheekily both to prog rock and more contemporary styles like dub step. Octave pedals are used to great effect, not just making guitars sound thick, but evoking baroque sounds such as harpsichord clavichord. Guitars are used to create textures of industrial noise – the sounds of the machine age. There’s even snatches of shoegaze and doom rock – guitarist Tuomas Kainulainen clearly listens to a lot of musical styles and bravely incorporates all of what inspires him in the space of one album. It sounds like it would be a mess, but all these different palettes are used to subtly to paint tracks that are kept interesting as well as incredibly listenable. The drums are an absolute power house and certainly the key to holding the whole tapestry together. There’s no clattery jazz from sticksman Tim Brooke that is often the signature modus operandi of this type of music – it’s solid driving rock all the way that makes the record great road trip music – probably somewhere nordic.
It’s hard to pin down why, but this album does have a Scandinavian feel – it’s not European somehow, despite having a krautrock feel in places. Perhaps it’s its penchant for sonic experimentation that evokes this – it’s brave in the same way The Sugarcubes were – almost as if the geographic isolation of the country of origin has a bearing on the music it creates.
I was recently fascinated by the documentary film about mathrock pioneers Slint – Breadcrumb Trail and can totally see how being geographically isolated can lead an unprescedented level of creativity. With Slint, it wasn’t just the fact that they were from nowhere’s ville in Kentucky, collectively they spent their teenage years shut in a basement not so much sticking two fingers up to the rules of contemporary rock music, as more like being blissfully unaware of it. The result was one of greatest post-rock albums of all time and that ‘fuck the rules’ approach to making music can be felt here too.
All NYOS need to do now is land themselves a soundtrack deal to one of those trendy Scandinavian art-house-style detective dramas we show on BBC4 these days – that way they can remain super cool but also get some much needed exposure that this duo so intensely deserve.
All words by Pete Darrington. You can read more from him in his Louder Than War author profile.