Timing the release of new music just right is a tricky art beyond creating an album, even without public health emergencies. Nocona had its third album in the can, with artwork ready to go, too, when the pandemic shutdown hit in March.
“Everyone was in other projects for the moment and when the world shut down we were like, ‘WTF are we gonna do?’” recalled bassist/co-producer Adrienne Isom, who founded the band with guitarist/songwriter husband Chris Isom. It had already been five years since the Venice-based couple released their last album, “Long Gone Song.”
“Three months into the quarantine, I just woke up, I wasn’t sure what to do, everybody was in the same panic mode, and I announced on Facebook, ‘I think it’s time to release a new Nocona record,’” she said, laughing. “That was the first time my husband and the whole band had heard of it. I was like, ‘This has to happen, now.’”
Thus the release of “Los Dos” this Friday. The album is Nocona’s most cohesive and sonically varied, and benefits from expanded input from bandmates: Glendale-based pedal steel player Dan Wistrom, invaluable fiddler Xander Hitzig, keyboardist Carl Byron, harmonica player Elan Glasser (“He’s our Mickey Raphael”), and drummer Justin Smith, an Altadena resident and Old Californio alum who’s been with Nocona from the start. The Isoms finish each other’s sentences, laughing frequently, while recounting a “magical summer” recording with co-producer Jay Braun.
“Jay and I grew up listening to punk rock and hardcore bands in New York, and we wanted to make a record that captured a live, raw spirit—like, ‘This band played these songs in a room together,’” Chris explained. “We’re staying pretty true to what we already do, which is influenced by a lot of psychedelic, Americana and roots music and punk too, but we always want to do something that jars listeners’ ears a bit or bends the genre.”
Their psychedelic, garage rock and punk influences proudly fuel rollicking tracks such as “Chester,” “Too Much to Lose” and “Unseen Hand,” while California country’s heritage warms the harmonies and waves of pedal steel, acoustic guitar and soulful organ swelling behind narratives such as “Ace in the Hole” and the witty “Post Apocalyptic Blues.” With its thrumming undertow of fingerpicked guitar, violin and steel, “Tabernacle Woes” is the biggest sonic surprise—vaguely reminiscent of “Brimstone” (from 2013’s “Nocona”) but with an eerie Celtic twist.
Chris acknowledged the album was deeply informed by an “existential, ambient level” of dread concerning our political environment. A line in “Old Bones”—“Good old Ktulu’s got quite some plans for you”—seemingly references H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu,” but he says he heeded a lesson from early heroes.
“I try not to tie things that are political or social to specific people or events. That’s one of the things about all the punk bands we loved in the ’80s; the band will get back together and they’re still singing about Reagan, Nicaragua, the Sandinistas and Iran-Contra. I talk about things like that but obliquely and symbolically, so hopefully they point to larger arcs of social commentary.”
To learn more about Nocona, visit noconamusic.com.