No Signal’s second album Distorted Reality serves notice that this Boulder, Colorado headquartered trio has their eyes on big game. They could have written and recorded the customary sophomore effort featuring ten to twelve solid, well-written standalone songs and walked away smiling. Riley Schmelzer and his bandmates, however, went bigger. Instead, the sixteen-song magnum opus they’ve released positions these young musicians are generational talents, particularly Schmelzer, who are shaking themselves free of their intoxicating influences and striking out in an unique, idiosyncratic creative direction.
Schmelzer began No Signal as a fourteen-year-old and, now twenty-one, has exponentially grown as a songwriter, guitarist, and singer during those intervening years. The growth is obvious in the structuring of this collection. Opening “entropele”, the album’s first track, with windswept electronic contributions sets a definite mood for the release that the following fifteen tracks sustain. It’s a short introduction, however, before the band comes in. The song’s shifting arrangement sets a template for the other songs as well – very little settles in one place for long on this album.
“Jane” is kind of an exception to that statement. It flashes another side of the band’s character that they deliver with fevered conviction, crushing hard rock, but wavers between steamrolling listeners and art/alternative rock passages that are much leaner in comparison. Several songs on Distorted Reality are brief musical interludes rather than full-fledged compositions. The first of those is “euclidean sunrise”, a restrained and brooding minimalist tune distinguished by Schmelzer’s reflective vocals and his application of post-production effects to the singing. The latter aspect further enhances its meditative demeanor.
“Embers” takes their experimentation with sound and arrangement a step further. There’s a decidedly futuristic, quasi sci-fi tilt to the song that won’t appeal to everyone – you’ll either find it engrossing or else dismiss it entirely. It’s a great example, however, of how resolutely No Signal avoids self-indulgence. Even relatively alien compositions such as this, far removed from mainstream songcraft, nonetheless conform to the strictures of popular song without compromising their individuality.
One of the truly unique moments on the album arrives with the track “Prelude”. A spoken word vocal with ample effects unreels the words over a tempered electronic swell. It’s followed by another of the album’s short musical interludes entitled “Transition A”, running less than a minute, and setting up the following track. “Phosphenes” is a long centerpiece moment on Distorted Reality that stretches the band’s playing skills and compositional talents further than ever before. Extending past the eleven-minute mark, No Signal sweeps listeners through a multi-part epic that’s one-half electronic rock, another ferocious hard rock, and an acoustic final part that concludes the track with emotion and style.
“P S D” features piano, one of the album’s most underrated musical components, and an impassioned vocal that carries listeners through to the song’s conclusion. The evocatively titled “???” is another journey along the cutting edge opening with an assortment of ambient sounds, a strangely melodic guitar motif, and a patient rhythm section performance. The first eight plus minutes of the title song and album finale devotes itself to another furious and challenging hard rock attack. It has everything you want from a climatic effort and the eventual segue into a lighter conclusion feels natural. No Signal’s Distorted Reality redefines the band’s potential in dramatic fashion, and they’ve pulled off a serious, substantive work that will be difficult to match or surpass with future releases. They have the talent, however, to keep pushing further in the future and let’s hope they do.