Last night I had a dream. I was back in college; it was 1993. I was hanging out at the local used record shop (it was Last Vestige in Albany, if you’re familiar with the area). As per usual I was pouring through the CDs and records and this loud, hazy wash of sound slipped through the air, grabbing my attention. “What is this?” I asked aloud. “Oh, you don’t know Elizabeth Colour Wheel?” a haughty voice responded. Even then and in my dreams folks who work in record stores can be real dicks. Anyway I woke up and realized Nocebo, the band’s debut full length after a number of singles and EPs, has that timeless quality that marks a unique and vital voice in the music world.
That 90s alternative vibe runs deep in the grooves of Nocebo, but it’s by no means the only thing there. In between the punk anguish of opener “Pink Palm” and feedback doom stomp of closer “Head Home” is a swirling vortex of shoegaze, doom, noise, and even subtle shades of black metal. Layers are important to the music, even something as seemingly sparse as the brief “Somnambulist” is covered in static and keyboards to the point where the fragile, hurt vocals of Lane Shi are lost. Lost, but not quite, because Nocebo is an exquisitely mixed album, where every line and note pulses with earnestness and intent.
This earnestness has been there since their earliest recordings, like “Out Of” from 2015, although there is a more distinct “let’s play with 90s alt-rock” vibe to the track, kind of like a more punked out Velocity Girl. That sense of play isn’t lost on Nocebo; there’s a memory of it on something like “23” with its slurred, hazy refrain of “It’s all over” as well as the way the guitars slide with the verses. With the majority of the track hitting around the six and half minute mark it leaves ample time to set up a vibe, string it along, and then evolve it into something similar but unique. Some of this is thanks to the versatility of Li’s voice, which bears at times, striking similarities in cadence and delivery to Billie Holiday – not a comparison I make lightly or thought I’d ever make for a rock album. But it’s there, just as much as the arching highs of Jeff Buckley (check out the opening of “Life of a Flower”). But in the end it is essentially, quintessentially her voice, and when coupled with the spacious and organic accompaniment of the rest of the band – Emmett Palaima and Alice Jackson on guitars, Billy Cunningham on bass, and Connor Devito on drums – everything manages to click, even when it moves into more freeform rhythmless textures.
I hesitate to call Nocebo metal, although there are more than enough factors at play here to warrant its inclusion on this site. More importantly, Elizabeth Colour Wheel are making great, vital music that anyone even remotely interested in hearing something passionate, dense, and different from the norm should get their ears on sooner rather than later. I’ve had this music in my head for weeks now and I don’t see it leaving anytime soon.