Nonarchy says farewell to Vancouver with new album Come Again

UBC/Vancouver band Nonarchy played their last show at The Cobalt on March 29 while celebrating the release of their new album, Come Again.

Since the release of their 2021 EP Cheap Tuesdays, Nonarchy has met crowds at venues across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland with punk-inspired hooks and trombone-harmonized choruses. Now, after what lead singer Kate Cunningham jokingly called “a divorce in the family” during the performance, the members of Nonarchy are going their separate ways with the release of their first full-length album.

If you caught Nonarchy at Goosehunt, the Biltmore or the Roxy in the last couple years, you’re likely to recognize at least a few tracks on Come Again. The band has steadily rolled them out, building anticipation for the album with two singles.

Come Again opens with “Stubborn,” an older Nonarchy song from their previous EP which featured “Small Towns,” the final track on the album, as a B-side.

The song is by far the band’s most upbeat, with its whimsical woodwind synth and bouncing bassline, and the catchy refrain of “I don’t think I will!” echoed during the verses give a good impression of Nonarchy’s musical strengths. Cunningham put it best herself during a live session interview for Once More With Feeling.

“I think that we have good hooks that grab you and pull you in. And then the rest of it is interesting enough that you want to stick around for the next two minutes.”

Songs like “Being Someone’s Kid” and “Little Circles” apply that technique to more driving, urgent sounds. During the instrumental break of “Little Circles,” Thomas McLeod’s simple, punchy trombone melodies combine with Josh Cunningham’s bassline over drummer Liam Jagoe’s expert rhythmic breaks to make for one of the most impressive moments on the album.

“Stubborn (Reprise)” sees Cunningham revisiting Come Again’s opening track with a solo fingerstyle guitar and vocal performance, putting a sombre cap on the original’s whimsy.

Onstage at The Cobalt, Cunningham explained that changing circumstances inspired her to return to some of the song’s themes from a new angle.

The reprise is short, just a few verses looking back on romantic stubbornness with older eyes. One could call the attitude mature or jaded depending on taste, but there’s often too little separating those to bother splitting hairs.

The song ends with a short instrumental section over synthesized drums. It’s uncharacteristic of Nonarchy and could indicate the kind of sound Cunningham might pursue in another endeavour.

Cunningham’s lyricism throughout Come Again is narrative and often introspective; stories of trans-Canadian road trips and painful break-ups/make-ups are outlined in grounded poetic verse.

Coming in around the album’s three quarter mark, “Hills + Foxes” sees Nonarchy break into an energetic chorus after a slow buildup that works like a kind of climax to the album. Cunningham’s vocal performance here is more impressive than ever, echoed in post and backed up by a droning bassline and trombone.

It’s a shame then that “Hills + Foxes” only features one refrain when the song’s energy and position in the sequence would lend itself to a more epic scope and longer runtime.

Come Again closes out with two older Nonarchy songs, “Surface Tension” and “Small Towns.” On the band’s website, Cunningham lists Weakerthans songwriter John K. Samson as a lyrical influence. These last two songs (as well as the earlier track “No Visible Horizon (Whiteout)”) are where that inspiration comes through in the strongest ways.

Reminiscent of the Weakerthans’ “One Great City!”, “Surface Tension” narrates a series of vignettes bound by threads of community and love. This love is individual, directed at friends and loved ones, but also broad and inclusive. It stretches to include “guys we kinda know” and “our Irish neighbours” who stomp around in the early morning. The song is a beautiful and detailed evocation of a life lived with others in Vancouver.

“Small Towns” finishes the album out with the universal experience of hometown envy. Everyone wishes they were from somewhere else sometimes. The song’s signature Nonarchic hook (“I’d be from Toronto, too”) builds to a climax with the band singing backup and crashes to a satisfying end.

Onstage at The Cobalt, Cunningham explained that changing circumstances inspired her to return to some of the song’s themes from a new angle.
Onstage at The Cobalt, Cunningham explained that changing circumstances inspired her to return to some of the song’s themes from a new angle. Fiona Sjaus / The Ubyssey

An air of nostalgia was unavoidable at The Cobalt as friends and fans gathered to see Nonarchy off. But melancholy is best fought with company: Victoria musician Christopher Atkins, UBC/Vancouver band Hope Slide and formerly Vancouver-based band Tractor Beam (with Kate Cunningham on bass) opened, each offering their praise and well wishes to the departing headliners.

It’s fitting that Nonarchy decided to deviate from their plans to play the entirety of Come Again in order and moved “Surface Tension” behind “Small Towns.” While the latter’s energy might have been the better choice to conclude a studio album, “Surface Tension” was the perfect closer to a night celebrating BC’s music community.

Nonarchy’s final show was crowded and energetic. Jagoe flailed wildly behind the drum kit in his characteristic thrashing style, at times abandoning his seat altogether. McLeod danced and clapped behind his keyboard, waving and blowing kisses to friends in the crowd and prompted cheers every time he hefted his trombone one-handed to his lips.

Josh Cunningham held down the band’s rhythm on bass, turning to smile at the others during instrumental breaks. The crowd roared along with Kate Cunningham, belting out refrains and hooks as if on cue, falling silent during the quiet “Stubborn (Reprise)” only to erupt with cheers on the last note.

When the band thanked the crowd and made their mock exit after “Small Towns” to chants of “ONE MORE SONG,” someone beside me called out, “stop playing, we know you’re gonna do another one!” Cunningham smiled and approached the mic, saying yeah, but it was fun to pretend sometimes.