First things first: when it comes to music from thenewno2, George Harrison comparisons will not be allowed. They’re old, they’re tired. Sure, Dhani Harrison looks and sounds like an echo of his father, but surely the fundamentals of genetics can’t be that surprising any more.
Since the quiet release of their first record, EP001, in 2006, thenewno2 have certainly come far. What began as the twosome (Harrison on guitar and lead vocals with Oli Hecks on drums and synthesizer) has become a much larger force with a steadier, bigger lineup. Their first four-song collection was tight and slightly mournful, but it flowed well and each song had its place. Hot on its heels came their debut album, You Are Here, which I must admit, completely lost me. Their early promise seemed to be ridiculously short-lived, cut short by a release that was mostly filler. There were concerted attempts at social commentary and what might be construed as humour, complete with videos featuring a lot of gurning and grimacing at the camera, with numerous costume and makeup changes.
But that was their first full-length album, and perhaps a bit of youthful navel-gazing can be forgiven. Fortunately, lineup changes and a break (wherein Harrison formed the side-project Fistful Of Mercy with Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur) gave the band a much-needed shakeup before they returned in 2011 with EP002. Overall a more mature and considered record, it laid a decent foundation for thefearofmissingout.
thefearofmissingout hammers home that thenewno2 are a serious band—all lower case with no spaces, so you know they’re too cool for indulgent things like pauses. In photos they look earnest and cross, as though they’ve all been interrupted mid-thought by the frivolous flash of a camera. So, in case you had any doubt, they’re real musos and even hipper than Instagram. thenewno2 use their new album to point at and skewer the phenomenon that keeps us all strapped to our smartphones and in the clammy embrace of Facebook: that somehow, somewhere, people all around us will be having much more fun and doing grand things that we will miss out on if we don’t into the fresh air of the real world and out of the thrall of technology.
The album opens strongly with “Station,” the song that thenewno2 have tried for years to make and have failed to before now. It’s moody, interesting and strangely alluring (featuring Holly Marilyn as well as a lovely little sample from Time Bandits). It is encouraging that on thefearofmissingout thenewno2 have moved away from the frustrating cornerstone of their sound: the depressing, aimless, synth-heavy gargle of their past. Thom Yorke and others have made a mint from sounding dismal, and no doubt thenewno2 had adopted this as a nod to their influences, such as Massive Attack and Portishead, forgetting that such bands possess a redeeming brilliance that belies the crushing sadness of English life that they write about. “Timezone” and “I Won’t Go,” while still riddled with angst and indecision lyrically, sound lighter and brighter.
“Hanging On” is a slight misfire, bringing little to the table apart from sounding typical (“I’m snowed in and my battery’s dead/Flight’s delayed and my friends were late,” Harrison whines, and my heart simultaneously bleeds and breaks for him).
Collaborations seem to be the thefearofmissingout’s strong point. “The Wait Around,” featuring RZA and The Black Knights, is a particularly quirky highlight. “Staring Out To Sea,” with Ben Harper, is a gentle number, and Thorunn Antonia provides the dreamy, whispering backing vocal support that thenewno2 enjoy so much. “Make It Home” doesn’t differ much from the rest of the album’s trademark sound, but “The Number” ends the album on a promising note; perhaps on future releases the band will deviate from the usual, as they have on this track. Perhaps they will show some more confidence showcasing Harrison’s vocal with some variation or force, and rely less on layering it into insignificance. And maybe, just maybe, they can develop lyrically, and who knows, one day write about something other than doom and gloom.
All in all, thefearofmissingout is a solid album, and thenewno2 have trimmed away some of the filler while settling into a sound that is captivating at best, and at its worst, dully repetitive. Compared to their debut album, thefearofmissingout is a sterling record, with an impressive array of guest performers that liven it up. Hopefully, it will become a decent mid-point in their career, and give thenewno2 the confidence to experiment and challenge themselves to explore sounds and lyrics away from their comfort zone. As a social document or statement of any sort it does little, but as a self-contained record it works well. If they cheer up a little and step away from the synth, thenewno2 will surely come into their own, hopefully spurred on by the fear of missing out on easily achievable greatness.
You can hear thefearofmissingout in its entirety over at NPR.