No Win Shows Off Big Hooks and Big Guitars on 'Downey'
If you can tell the difference between indie rock, power pop, and pop punk you will likely enjoy No Win's Downey.
22 March 2019
No Win's debut album Downey is a strong collection of songs nestled comfortably in between indie rock, pop punk, and power pop. Those are subgenres whose distinctions are often blurry to the layperson, but each has its own, often unwritten, set of markers. The people who can explain why the Pixies, Green Day, and Weezer each belong to a slightly different category of music are the same who will get a kick out of this album. It's no coincidence that the press materials for Downey start off by comparing No Win to Teenage Fanclub and Superchunk.
No Win began as Danny Nogueiras' solo project, and although he has a full band for the album, he still does the vocals, some of the guitars, and the bulk of the songwriting, as well as acting as his own producer. With a quick 10 songs in 29 minutes, Downey is a burst of infectious energy. Nogueiras has a good ear for melody, and he balances his songs between hooky sing-alongs and catchy guitar riffs. There's also just enough crunch in the guitars and pounding in the drums to keep those hooks from sliding into saccharine pop.
All of this is on display from the moment the album opens with "After Your Legs". Aside from a half-second of feedback, the entire band, including vocals, starts together on the initial downbeat. Nogueiras sings, "I'm just your every / I could never be / Anything else for you" in an instantly catchy melody that shifts three or four times over the course of the first verse instead of just repeating the same simple hook. The chugging guitars and perfectly placed snare drum and crash cymbal hits enhance the vocals without pulling the focus away. When the song does arrive at its driving chorus, "Ooo" laden post-chorus, and instrumental break, the band pushes closer to the fore. There's even a low, thumping bridge that provides strong contrast three-quarters through the song.
Besides Nogueiras' savvy use of melody in the verse, there's nothing unique about "After Your Legs", but it is an excellent example of the form. It's over in just two minutes and 20 seconds and yet it's a fully constructed song that sets the template perfectly for the next 27 minutes. A handful of songs on the rest of the album hit the same kind of heights, while others don't quite put it all together as effectively.
The latter group includes songs like "Being Teen", which gets a lot of mileage from its spot-on wistful teenager lyrics and harmonizing between Nogueiras and bassist David Jerkovich. But musically its mid-tempo rock comes off sort of bland, without a strong vocal hook and only a middling guitar riff trying to anchor the song. "Outsource" has a great vocal performance from Nogueiras and is this close to being a rock anthem, but the music isn't memorable enough.
The two songs that scrape up against the four-minute mark also have minor issues. "Vision" has a strong performance from lead guitarist Juan Liñan and some great fills from drummer Jeff Enzor, but the vocal melody and chorus, in particular, are just okay. "2 Real" is lyrically strong, talking about worrying about a romantic partner with a drinking problem coming home. But the music is pretty typical crunchy rock. However, there is an extended guitar duet in the middle of the song that's superb. Each of these tracks is completely listenable and fits in well with the vibe and mood the album, but they're missing an element or two that would push them beyond "solid" and into another level.
"Endless Scan", "Shelley Duval", and "From the Back of a Rolling Rock", on the other hand, have those extra elements. "Endless Scan" follows "2 Real", which ends with an outro of slow, crashing guitars, and a good 20 seconds of feedback-laden fadeout. Suddenly the band launches into a high-speed pop-punk workout. Power chords, sizzling hi-hat, and an opening line that goes, "I remember you from high school / I remember all the things you drew / I remember who you were when nobody loved you." It's great to hear No Win cut loose, fully embracing the tenets of the genre with squalling guitar leads, galloping drums, and big "whoa oh oh" hooks.
"Shelley Duvall" similarly embraces a classic indie rock sound, with noisy guitars dirtying up a really sweet vocal melody. Its lyrics are a wistful love song, fantasizing about being alone together for the first time. Nogueiras and Jerkovich harmonize nicely (but not too nice - they don't blend perfectly, which is very indie rock appropriate) here on the chorus, and Jerkovich adds some echoing backing vocals on the bridge that also fit well stylistically.
And then "From the Back of a Rolling Rock" is the power-pop track that completely succeeds. Here we have a great big chorus, as Nogueiras sings, "You're the greatest / Of all time" over a snare drum pounding right on the beat. Meanwhile, the guitars are fuzzy and melodic, with Jiñan throwing down a whole series of great leads in between vocal lines. The final run through the chorus has the drums playing in half-time while the rest of the band keeps the same tempo. This is a savvy way to push the song towards its end, where the drums drop out and Nogueiras sings, "misunderstood" several times as the last guitar ends on a note of uncertainty, not resolution.
Downey is a really good debut record. With only 10 songs in under a half-hour, the band establishes a sound and sticks with it. It's appropriate that they only throw in minor variations; this is not the sort of album that would be served by expanding to 14 tracks with some big stylistic shifts. Nogueiras is a confident songwriter and a skilled singer, and his band has a lot of energy. Nogueiras' affiliation with FIDLAR (he was their part-time drummer back in that band's early days) and their obsessive fanbase should give No Win a built-in audience, but fans of catchy rock would be advised to give Downey a try as well.