What is it that rises in my chest when I listen to No Boys (or noboys, or noboyz420), the jangly, jazzy Guelph quartet of singer Jon St. Michael, guitarist Emily Reimer, bassist Anne-Marie Walters, and drummer Trevor Cooke? Not a feeling, but a curious mingling of feelings. Ecstasy and longing. Euphoria and loss.
Let’s call it love — but not love like windswept hair and roses clenched in teeth. Jon St Michael even jokes about musicians who peddle that kind of love on the demo for “Secongary,” a shuffling, sad, sexy number about love over long distances: “Shiiiiiit … rockin’ with you smooth,” he purrs.
Jon and his crew have tapped into something even sweeter. Through their splendid blend of humour and heartbreak, they get at the real, plain, everyday feeling of deep affection and attachment that you develop over time for the people you eat, sleep, fight, shoot the shit, and play music with — love, but the kind of love that sneaks up on you, that you often only notice when it’s gone.
It helps that so many of their songs are about the love between friends, like “Brandon” and “Antonio,” both named after their real-life subjects. “Brandon” manages to capture the unique melancholy of growing apart from a friend without a whiff of bitterness, honouring love and lack simultaneously. “I never had the heart to ask / It seems it’s for the best … And you know I love you / As I said I would,” sings Jon.
“Antonio” is even more unusual, a song composed of inside jokes between roommates, goofy phrases like “You’re the master of all things pasta.” Jon’s delivery, punctuated by passionate sighs, gives this twee adoration touching potency, turning a gag tune into a transcendent celebration of companionship.
Throughout all of this I’ve barely touched on their instrumentals, which meld so well with the poetry as to be truly inseparable — Jon’s vocals are even often submerged in the mix, swirling in the harmonies. On guitar, Jon favours stripped back seventh chords, adding a pinch of dissonance without getting fussy. The bass, handled handily by Anne-Marie, harmonizes simply and gorgeously beneath, creating a rich, saturated under-layer upon which Emily’s trebly, jangling lead lines can skate. Trevor’s drums are tight and restrained, propelling the band’s surging sound.
The total effect is full of fuzz, blur, and crackle, like an old Polaroid, or a family video on VCR — a sound perfectly suited to their wistful songcraft. They don’t go in much for big dynamic shifts, but, again, that fits their aim to bottle the kind of emotions that fill you up and take you over. It’s colourful, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s sad, it’s full of joy.
Music ought to make you feel something, right? Music that makes you feel like this? That rules.