Existential dread is inherently relatable, but that doesn’t make it catchy. No Yonder does. Their debut album, autofocus, is full of anthemic longing—a collection of indie rock toe-tappers that urges the audience to sing along to our sorrows in impervious harmony.
Lead singer Brad Gerke’s lyrics are self-deprecating and delightfully detailed while remaining faithful to stick-to-your-ribs melodies. In “Steel Trap” he writes, “I used to be a sharp one/Now I’m as dull as they come/If you add up my parts/You’ll get a whole lot less than the sum”. Lines like these display a knack for rhythm in language, allowing Gerke to exercise his witty wordplay without ever straying beyond the boundaries of the tune’s natural course.
Gerke explained, “Even if the phrase is longer originally, I figure out how to make it fit. Playing with syllables is something I think about a lot.” This lyrical distillation results in songs that become more thought-provoking as they get wedged further into your head. “Dale Loses a Grand Tour” and “Title Tracks” each deploy a vocal convoy for a chorus big enough to fill an arena. “Swedish Sisters and Statues” and “Sara, Money, All Magic” feature instrumental hooks to hum along to if you in fact lose faith in cliches and platitudes.
No Yonder crosses a wide spectrum from southern storytelling in “Wayne” to gritty head-banging in “Empty Threats”, with each song unified by a distinct voice and tasteful accompaniments. Gerke has found freedom to explore these different styles in the band setting, saying “The idea was to start making music under a band name. There’s an expectation that comes with being a singer-songwriter. And also I have a weird last name.” It’s hard to argue with the sum of the parts as energetic drums, driving basslines, and swooning guitar leads propel Gerke’s lofty lyrics (and strange name) to new heights.
Speaking of reaching lofty heights, there’s an undercurrent of artistic frustration threaded throughout the album. In “Hold Out/On”, Gerke sings “I’m tearing out my hair again/Knowing I’m too old to play pretend/But I’ll write my name in wet cement/The second I get the chance”. It’s easy to apply this longing to leave a mark to making music, but anyone with a fleeting goal can feel that freshly poured sidewalk drying around their fingertip. These songs seem determined to slide their signature into existence.
A little bit country. A little bit indie rock. A little bit Thoreau at Walden Pond if he grew up blasting The Mountain Goats. A whole lot to enjoy. No Yonder’s first release perfectly encapsulates the angst of adulthood, proving you can still bob your head no matter what’s going on inside of it.